Doctors’ offices, hospitals, and other medical facilities produce a large amount of varied waste, and often those different types of waste require different disposal techniques. One such example is pathological waste, and just like hazardous waste or expired pharmaceutical waste, this too has a specific disposal protocol. If you believe your facility produces this type of waste, you must properly identify, segregate, label, and dispose of it—or you put your facility at risk for fines or other consequences.

What Is Pathological Waste?

This type of waste is defined as any human or animal body parts. That can include:

  • Organs.
  • Tissues.
  • Surgical specimens.
  • Bodily fluids removed during surgery or autopsy.

Who Produces This Waste Stream?

While it’s not as common for this waste to appear in a doctor’s office, there are several medical centers that have to handle waste legally classified as pathological.

These institutions include:

  • Hospitals.
  • Surgery centers.
  • Cosmetic surgery centers.
  • Veterinarian clinics.

Pathological Waste Disposal

Technically, this waste falls under the umbrella of regulated medical waste. Within that category, there are two primary means of waste disposal. Depending on the type of waste, that can involve medical waste autoclaves, or it can involve a medical waste incinerator.

One of the most common medical waste steams treated through the autoclave process is anything contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious material. This type of waste is largely known as red bag medical waste.

Anything deemed pathological, however, is not suitable for the autoclave machine. Rather, this type of waste must go through medical incineration—a much hotter treatment that essentially reduces the contents to dust or ash. (On the other hand, autoclaving is merely a sterilization process. The products themselves are not reduced down in this way.)

The Process

To properly and legally handle this waste, there are several distinct steps that have to occur in the disposal process.

  • Identification


One of the most essential steps is simply identifying if what you have is pathological. If you’re in any way unsure, reach out to your local medical waste management companies. They should be able to provide valuable and accurate information about your waste stream.

  • Segregation

If you’ve determined that what you have is pathological, it must go through a different process than the rest of your red bag waste disposal. Therefore, all pathological materials must be segregated from more common red bag waste—bloody bandages, gauze, surgical masks, etc.

  • Labeling

In addition to segregation, this waste must also be properly labeled to indicate it’s bound for the medical incinerator. Bright orange stickers (typically about two or three) are adhered to each box. These stickers read “Incineration Only.”

This alerts whoever is doing the medical waste pickup to put these boxes on a specific part of the trailer. This is because all the regulated waste goes to the same treatment facility, and the waste is separated there. Whatever is labeled for the medical waste autoclave goes to that machine, and whatever is labeled in need of medical waste incineration is set aside.

Note, an incinerator might or might not be at the treatment facility. There are far fewer incinerators than autoclaves, so the pathological material might get shipped yet again to another facility that can handle it.

Trace Chemotherapy Waste

If your facility also produces trace chemotherapy materials, they are treated like pathological material. That is, they fall under regulated medical waste, but they need to be incinerated.

Trace chemotherapy encompasses items that once contained chemotherapy drugs (syringes, needles, drug bottles, etc.) but are now empty. Anything that still contains any chemotherapy waste—even a few drops—needs to be treated and disposed of as hazardous waste.

This caveat for trace chemotherapy was put in place to help a medical institution maintain its smaller EPA generator status.

Contacting a Medical Waste Management Company

Because laws and regulations vary somewhat from state to state, it’s always a good idea to reach out to your local medical waste management company. They can either simply offer information about state-specific regulations (such as the necessity of a refrigerated trailer for pathological material), or they can offer their services to help legally and safely dispose of your waste.

For more information about pathological waste or general waste management tips, please feel free to contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services, a full-service Atlanta waste management company.