The sterilization and treatment of medical waste before it’s dumped as garbage is an extremely important part of the medical waste management industry. Without the proper treatment, waste that is still dangerous—either hazardous or infectious—can end up in landfills. From there it can contaminate water or soil and pose extremely serious health risks for any human or animal that comes in contact with it. In the medical waste management industry, one such necessary sterilization method is autoclaving.

Important Information Regarding Medical Waste Autoclaves

What Does Autoclaving Entail?

An autoclave is a sterilization machine that uses steam heated to 300 degrees. The size of an autoclave can vary from as small as the top of a desk to twenty-five feet long and ten feet high. The different sizes are obviously to accommodate different amounts of medical waste.

What Is This Designed to Treat?

This medical waste sterilization machine is specially used for regulated medical waste. That waste is put into the machine on carts, the door is shut, and 300-degree steam is pumped in at a regulated amount for approximately one hour. This process kills all the bacteria and infectious material within that biomedical waste.

At this point, the waste is considered noninfectious. Because it doesn’t pose a bacterial or infectious threat, it can be treated as solid trash and shipped out on a nonhazardous manifest to a nonhazardous landfill.

What Exactly Is Biomedical Waste?

Biomedical waste is known by many different names in the medical waste management industry. It’s sometimes known as regulated medical waste as well as red bag waste.

It encompasses items that are or were potentially contaminated by blood, certain body fluids, and other potentially infectious materials. Common items from a doctor’s office or hospital that might end up in an autoclave for sterilization include:

  • Gloves, gauze, gowns, or other items worn by patients or doctors.
  • Used bandages, Band-Aids, and gauze.
  • Used or contaminated sharps (needles, syringes, scalpels, medical knives, etc.).

What Items Should Not Be Treated in an Autoclave?

Because the temperature is only 300 degrees, this sterilization process is for bacteria. It does not properly treat anything considered hazardous medical waste. Some common examples of hazardous materials include:

  • Chemotherapy waste (even trace chemotherapy).
  • Some pharmaceutical waste.
  • Some expired medications.

These kinds of medical waste need to go into an incinerator. This operates at a much higher heat and destroys the hazardous elements in that waste so that it can then safely go into a landfill without leaching into the groundwater or soil.

Extra Steps in the Autoclaving Process

Although this is dependent on state, sometimes the regulated medical waste is put through the autoclave and then shredded. This destroys items such as needles or syringes, which, even though they are sterilized, could otherwise pose a threat of sticking or cutting somebody.

Proper Permitting and Insurance

As with many facets of the medical waste management industry, in order to legally operate in certain capacities, the company needs to be fully permitted and insured. Autoclaving is no exception.

While it is uncommon for a waste generator to request to see proof of this permitting and insurance, know that a good, reputable company should be able to give you that evidence easily. If you’re at all unsure or uneasy about the company you’re working with, asking for that proof would be one way to determine if you want to work together.

For more information about autoclaving or the proper sterilization of biomedical waste, please contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services, a waste management company with specific experience in the proper treatment of biomedical waste