In the medical industry, there are a lot of terms and definitions related to the waste created, and this can quickly become confusing. One such misunderstood term that's essential for doctors and any member of the medical community is "regulated medical waste." It's imperative health care workers know how this differs from standard waste and what special requirements need to be taken to properly dispose of it.
What Medical Facilities Need to Know About Regulated Medical Waste
A Broad Definition
The federal body of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strictly defines this type of waste. It is considered any biomedical waste that has been contaminated by blood, body fluids, or any other potentially infectious materials.
Adding to the potential confusion, it is also known by several different names. By virtue of it often containing blood or body fluid contamination, it is sometimes called red bag waste. It's sometimes even known as biohazardous waste or infectious medical waste.
What Falls Under This Category?
Within the setting of a doctor's office of hospital, many items can come in contact with blood, body fluids, or other infectious material. These items most often include:
• Medical Sharps (needles, syringes, scalpels, medical knives, etc.)
• Used Band-Aids, gauze, or bandages
• Gowns (worn by doctors or patients)
• Masks (worn by doctors or patients)
Once in contact with these potentially infectious sources, an item is then considered regulated waste.
Can This Type of Waste Go in the Garbage?
Absolutely not. Regulated waste is not "typical" trash. It cannot simply go in the garbage because it poses a potential risk for anyone who comes in contact with that material.
What about Medications and Pharmaceuticals?
This is one area of particular confusion in the clinical waste management industry. Expired medications and pharmaceuticals do not constitute regulated waste. The confusion comes in because some drugs are considered "hazardous." However, this is a separate category distinct from regulated waste. The treatment process is different for expired medications than it is for blood-contaminated waste. Therefore, they fall under different umbrellas, and procedural requirements differ.
How Do Doctor Offices and Hospitals Properly Dispose of Regulated Waste?
Doctors and other members of the medical community coming in contact with regulated waste all need to follow certain procedures and steps to ensure it is properly segregated and disposed of.
The first step is being trained and knowledgeable about what constitutes this type of waste. Being aware of the EPA's rules and being in compliance with OSHA and bloodborne pathogens can help eliminate any confusion about what is considered regulated.
The next step is using the proper tools provided to hospitals and doctors' offices. In a clinic room, there will be a bin with a red bag. This is specifically for regulated waste (or red bag waste). All contaminated trash should go in that bin—and that bin only.
Sharps require one additional step to ensure proper sharp disposal. Any sharp should be placed in a puncture-resistant sharp container before being placed in the red bag. This ensures the sharp edge or point doesn't poke, stick, or cut anybody dealing with this waste. The use of a puncture-resistant sharps container is a vital part of proper sharps disposal.
Note, it's just as important to put the proper items in red bag waste as it is to avoid putting the wrong items in that waste bin. (For example, expired medications and pharmaceuticals don't belong in red bag waste.) Not being properly trained or simply not complying with the rules related to this regulated biomedical waste can result in improper waste disposal. This puts people and the environment at risk, and it puts your clinic or facility at risk for fines or even more serious consequences.
For more information about what constitutes regulated waste in the medical industry or how to properly dispose of this red bag waste, please contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services a professional waste management company for hospitals and doctor offices.