The healthcare industry helps millions of people each day across the country. A side that people may not think about is the medical waste that is produced to carry out procedures and treatments. Medical waste can be produced by healthcare facilities or at home, which makes learning how to dispose of it safely an essential skill to have. Overall, medical waste disposal is an important service that protects our environment, health and safety.
What is Medical Waste?
The World Health Organization defines medical waste as waste generated by healthcare activities. Types of biomedical waste could range from used needles, soiled dressings, blood, chemicals, diagnostic samples, medical devices or radioactive materials. All of these materials need to be safely and properly disposed of. Improper disposal can put the community at risk of infection and toxic injuries. It can also put the environment at risk of pollution.
Regulations around medical waste began in the 1980s when medical waste was beginning to wash up on several east coast beaches. Congress then enacted the Medical Waste Tracking Act that required the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate medical waste disposal. For example, regulated medical waste includes:
- Pathological waste: tissues, organs, body parts
- Human blood and blood products: waste blood, plasma and blood products
- Cultures and stocks of infectious agents: specimens from medical and pathology laboratories
- Contaminated sharps: needles, syringes, scalpel blades, broken glass
- Isolation waste: waste generated by patients who are in isolation to protect others from communicable diseases
- Contaminated animal carcasses, bedding and body parts
Although the largest amount of medical waste is produced from healthcare facilities like clinics or hospitals, people at home can produce medical waste that still needs to be disposed of safely. The most common type of household medical waste are needles, syringes or diabetic lancets. So where do you dispose of biohazard waste?
Step one in how to dispose of medical waste at home is to obtain a sharps container or puncture-proof container with a lid. Place used needles or other contaminated waste are placed in there until it needs to be emptied. The next step is to contact professionals who specialize in biomedical waste disposal. You never want to dispose of medical waste yourself because this could put you and others at great risk of injury and infection. Professionals will take your sanitary waste, decontaminate it and dispose of it for you.
So you may be wondering what happens to the sanitary waste after it is taken by a biohazard collection company. There are a few different methods used for biological waste disposal. Before 1997, 90% of medical waste was incinerated. After overwhelming concern for air quality, alternative methods have been more prevalent in disposing of biohazardous waste. These alternatives include:
- Thermal treatment (microwave technology)
- Steam sterilization
- Chemical mechanical systems
Properly disposing of biomedical waste is important because it protects our environment from contamination, limits exposure to infection and ensures the safety of our communities. Above all, relying on professionals who have extensive training and experience on collection, transport and disposal of these waste products is key to maintaining safe healthcare practices.