Waste Management For Medical Institutions: What Goes Where?

If you're opening a new medical clinic or laboratory, establishing a smart, safe routine for disposing of your trash should be at the top of your to-do list. Some items should be handled as non-renewable garbage or even toxic waste, while others can be recycled or reused. Here are some sensible strategies for dealing with different kinds of materials.

Paperwork and Supplies

Much of the standard garbage produced in medical facilities can be disposed of through normal methods, including recycling. Place office paper, old newspapers, cans, plastic items, and glass bottles in specially marked recycling bins for curbside collection, and you'll be doing your part for the community and the environment. Please note that this does not hold true for any items that have been in contact with medical specimens or procedures. You may throw medical receptacles and tools into your trash or recycling bins only if they have never been used or if they were sterilized prior to disposal.


If you draw blood, administer injections, or use disposable surgical instruments in the course of your daily work, then it's imperative that you get rid of all used disposable "sharps" (such as needles) as safely and securely as possible. These objects may contain traces of drugs or bodily fluids, and one accidental poke might cause a dangerous reaction or spread an infectious disease.

The smartest solution to this concern is to use a sharps disposal container. This plastic container carries a red biohazard warning label and seals securely at the top. Once the container is about three-fourths full, consider it full and stop using it; the closer the needles get to the top of the container, the riskier the situation becomes for the user. You can leave the used container in a community medical drop box or even mail it to a waste collection facility -- but if you produce a steady volume of these containers, you'll find it more convenient to have a medical waste management company collect them on a regular schedule.

Biohazard Boxes

Medical waste can take a wide variety of forms, from small specimens and samples to entire body parts. These items pose a clear threat to public health and hygiene, so you can't simply bag them up and put them with your regular trash for pickup. This stuff must be packaged according to FDA strictures and state laws regarding hazardous waste disposal. To accomplish this, you need to get yourself some biohazard boxes.

At first glance, a biohazard box doesn't appear all that different from any other corrugated cardboard box you've ever seen -- but the differences are significant ones. For one thing, these boxes are always lined with industrial-strength plastic bags (colored red for easy identification) to prevent any leakage of toxic materials. The outer sides of the box are marked with prominent symbols warning that it contains potentially-hazardous biological waste.

Ordinary waste disposal entities won't be able to get rid of filled biohazard boxes for you. You need to contact your medical waste management company instead; these professionals know how to handle these materials safely, transporting them directly to a disposal facility for incineration or some other approved form of destruction. Of course, you can throw away unused biohazard containers with your normal trash. In fact, both the corrugated cardboard and the plastic liners can be recycled, so you may want to place them in your recycling bins.

Reusable Items

Reusing an item in your medical facility is even better than recycling it. For instance, your hospital cafeteria can make use of washable plates and utensils instead of their disposable counterparts. Fracture pans, measuring containers, and other plastic items can be sterilized and reused. Glass lab equipment can also be sterilized for many years of safe reuse. It is critically important, however, to perform thorough reprocessing and sterilization on instruments that enter the bodies of multiple patients. According to the FDA, certain instruments naturally pose a higher risk of infection, such as scopes for viewing inside the body, curettes, forceps and tubing.

Once you've set up and enforced your procedures for dealing with standard trash, recyclable/reusable items and hazardous products in the appropriate manner, you'll find that it becomes second nature to your medical staff. Stay vigilant -- and stay healthy!

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