If you're in the medical industry, it's very likely you've heard the term "medical waste autoclave." It's possible, though, you're not as familiar with everything that can go into this machine and what exact role it plays in proper medical waste disposal. Read on to find out what exactly an autoclave is, what can and can't go in it, and why it matters to your medical facility.

What Goes in a Medical Waste Autoclave? Everything You Need to Know

What Is an Autoclave?

In order to understand everything that can legally and safely be put in an autoclave, it's necessary to first understand what the autoclave machine is.

An autoclaving machine is a device that sterilizes regulated medical waste. It uses steam heated to approximately 300 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve this sterilization.

Certain operating specifics about this machine vary from state to state. For example, some states require the sterilized waste to also be shredded before being landfilled. Other states do not require this extra step. (Georgia, for instance, does not.) The amount of time the biohazardous waste needs to be in the actual machine also varies from state to state. Florida, California, and others are very strict about these kinds of regulations.

What Types of Waste Can Go through the Autoclave Process?

Medical waste autoclaves are used specifically for regulated medical waste, which involves anything contaminated by blood, bodily fluids, or other potentially infectious materials.

That includes:

  • Used medical sharps and sharps containers.
  • Bloody bandages or gauze.
  • Masks or gowns (worn by doctors or patients).

This regulated waste is sometimes referred to by several other names, including red bag waste and biohazardous material. These multiple names can cause confusion, but it's important to remember these are just different names for the same type of waste—and the disposal process is, therefore, the same.

What Waste Can't Go through Autoclave Machines?

Even under the umbrella of regulated medical waste, not everything is disposed of through the autoclaving process. Two major exceptions are chemotherapy waste and pathological waste. (Note, the vast majority of medical waste does go through autoclaving. There are merely a few exceptions to the rule.)

These items are shipped on a standard bill of lading under the same terms as regulated medical waste, but they must go to a medical incinerator. This machine burns the waste rather than steaming and sterilizing it.

If chemo waste or pathological waste was merely sterilized, it would still be hazardous and unsafe for the landfill. Incineration ensures these kinds of waste no longer pose any health risks to people, animals, or the environment.

Because this process is more extensive and involved, it is necessarily much more costly than autoclaving.

Proper Regulated Medical Waste Disposal

It's imperative you know and follow these disposal rules for biohazardous material because you are always liable for legal or financial consequences if anything happens with the waste you generated.

If you're at all unsure about your waste and what proper disposal method you should use, make sure to discuss and plan with experienced, professional medical waste disposal companies.   

For more information about biohazardous waste disposal or medical waste autoclaves in general, please feel free to contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services, a waste management Atlanta company.