Whether from everyday medical tests and procedures, or scientific research and experimentation, there are three kinds of hazardous waste that are common to laboratories and require hazardous waste disposal. These are:
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Lets explore each of these waste types before turning to a broader discussion of the key considerations to take into account for proper waste disposal in a laboratory:
01 / Laboratory chemical waste
Chemical waste from analyzers, calibrators, cleaners, reagents, stains, and test kits must be analyzed to determine if they require hazardous waste disposal according to RCRA standards. The constituents, contaminants, and preservatives found in these wastes can also be considered RCRA hazardous, even at very minimal levels.
Also remember, product inserts often don’t list data about small amounts of preservatives and contaminants that might require hazardous waste management as required by the EPA (or state-specific lethality laws). Thus, it’s important to get expert advice about your laboratory waste to make sure you’re not out of EPA compliance despite your best efforts.
Examples of chemical waste in a laboratory might include:
02 / Laboratory infectious wastes
Infectious wastes are also called biohazardous wastes and/or “red bag waste” in healthcare. They consist of fluid blood or bulk body-fluids and human-derived albumin, as well as live or attenuated vaccines, cultures, biological agents, and similar lab detritus that are infectious to human beings.
Your laboratory waste disposal requires hazardous waste management if it includes:
Anything carcinogenic, teratogenic, or mutagenic
Anything that’s been soaked in blood (gloves, gauze, gowns, etc.)
Batteries and heavy metals from decommissioned lab equipment
Cultures of infectious diseases and/or agents
Discarded vaccines, antibiotics, pills, and other pharmaceuticals
Disinfectants and solvents used for laboratory purposes
Human or animal tissues
Managed by a properly licensed laboratory waste disposal company, these materials are made safe in one of three ways:
Autoclaving. This is the method by which about 90 percent of biohazardous waste is incinerated. The material is placed in a specialized oven to be destroyed by high levels of temperature and pressure. Or it’s incinerated in specialized microwave ovens.
Chemical Disinfection. Some biohazardous wastes can be landfilled like any other kind of waste after being chemically disinfected.
Encapsulation. This is used for “sharps.” These are contaminated materials, mostly syringes, which can easily puncture conventional waste containers and thereby spread infection. Sharps are “encapsulated” into puncture‑proof containers and kept apart from other garbage in landfills.
03 / Laboratory pathological and large tissue waste
Pathological and large tissue wastes include such things as human tissues and body parts that have been excised by accident, surgery, or autopsy. It also includes carcasses, body parts, and blood that are infectious to humans and obtained from research animals.
Yellow bags are used for pathological and large tissue wastes rather than red. And they require autoclaving, as neither chemical disinfection nor encapsulation are options.
04 / General considerations for proper waste disposal in a laboratory
Be careful about bulk purchasing. Try not to buy more than you need of anything that will be considered hazardous when it’s time to throw it away, used or unused. Volume discounts don’t help your budget if a product expires and has to be discarded. This might seem like obvious advice, but remember that current supply-chain problems can cause staff & management to be overcautious, not wanting to be caught short, so they overbuy.
Be careful how you rinse. It’s considered an instance of disposal when you rinse solutions from slides, vessels, or equipment down the drain. Therefore, solutions must be analyzed before they’re diluted by rinsing. Depending on what’s found, you might have to contact your POTW to see if it’s permissible. Otherwise, by failing to do so, you might inadvertently commit an instance of illegal hazardous waste discharge.
Be careful segregating lab wastes. Identify wastes and separate each into appropriate containers for sharps, pharmaceutical, chemical, pathological, and non-hazardous categories. Avoid mixing hazardous and non-hazardous wastes so as to prevent overspending on medical waste disposal. Use approved containers for the particular category of waste. E.g., special tubs, puncture-proof containers, and/or certified cardboard boxes as appropriate.
Be careful storing and shipping lab wastes. Store containers in a secure dry area for scheduled pickup and/or shipping. Label and package them per DOT regulations. Take note of weight restrictions. Include correct transit documentation per state & local agencies, DOT, EPA, and OSHA.
05 / Agencies concerned with how to dispose of chemical waste in a lab
Along with the EPA, at least three federal agencies have an interest in laboratory waste disposal:
OSHA. Laboratory waste is an occupational safety concern in addition to an environmental one. OSHA guidelines override state & local ones if the latter are less strict.
DOT. Laboratory waste is considered a hazardous material, and transporting it is therefore subject to the pertinent DOT rules.
06 / Safe-and-legal laboratory waste disposal is your ultimate goal
MCF offers 30-plus years of unparalleled experience helping hospital, research, clinic, and commercial laboratories achieve safe, legal, and cost-effective management of their various waste streams.
Our local customer- and regulatory-support teams will expertly manage your account; and our services are readily scalable—ready to grow as your enterprise prospers.
Look to MCF for:
Full waste-stream management of chemical, infectious, and pathological wastes, including RCRA “listed” and “characteristic” wastes
Scalable waste collection solutions that include lab packs, single-use sharp containers, and pathological waste bins
Lab decommissioning services
Chemical, biological, and radiation remediation
Online OSHA compliance training for lab personnel and students
Contact us today to learn about products, services, and training that will streamline your lab‑waste management. Or call 1.866.315.8116.