What is Regulated Medical Waste – Overview
Regulated medical waste is commonly known by many names, such as bio-hazardous waste, infectious waste, biomedical waste, and red bag waste. This type of waste material can contaminate people’s bodily fluids, such as blood or other infectious material. This type of waste poses a substantial risk of transmitting infection.
Several aspects of waste are considered before terming it as “regulated.” Every classification is usually according to the type of handling process the waste needs, which may also be state-specific in many cases.
As a healthcare professional and even a layman, it is important to know more about regulated medical waste to prevent unwanted infections from spreading. This knowledge may very well prevent hazardous medical waste from being disposed of in landfills, which is essential to protect the public.
What is Regulated Medical Waste?
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), regulated medical waste is any material potentially contaminated with bodily fluids, blood, blood components, or any OPIM (other potential infection material).
Different states, and even hospitals, can have varying regulations regarding the disposal of medical waste, which is potentially infectious.
The EPA, however, does not regulate the collection and segregation of medical waste. It is, in fact, regulated by state environmental offices along with the health departments, such as the Waste Management Programs or Departments of Natural Resources.
For instance, in Wisconsin, medical waste regulations are enforced and governed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources, and the state defines medical waste ad biological infectious waste. But in Arizona, regulated medical waste management falls under the state’s Solid Waste Management Program.
Arizona state law defines regulated medical waste as “any solid waste which is generated during the diagnosis, treatment or immunization of a human being or animal … but does not include hazardous waste as defined in A.R.S. 49-762-04.”
Similarly, other states have their own definitions of what comprises regulated medical waste. If you wish to find your state’s specific guidelines for regulated medical waste, then you can find them in your state government’s administration code definitions or code of regulations. Besides this, states’ guidelines and regulations for storing regulated medical waste also differ.
To understand it more correctly, let’s take a closer look at what is regulated medical waste exactly.
There are many items that come in contact with bodily fluids, blood or other infectious materials in medical settings. This could be at a hospital, doctor’s clinic, urgent or emergency care center, and even a piercing or tattoo parlor.
These potentially infectious items include:
- Used Band-Aids, bandages and gauze
- Medical syringes, needles, medical knives, scalpels, etc.
- Masks are worn by patients and healthcare workers
- Gowns are worn by patients and healthcare workers
Remember that this is only a broad list. Each state has precise definitions for classifying regulated medical waste and its management. Usually, any item that comes into contact with a patient or healthcare worker and has potentially infectious sources is termed regulated medical waste.
Can You Dispose of Regulated Medical Waste in the Garbage?
No, regulated medical waste is strictly forbidden from being disposed of in the common municipal trash. It must be carefully kept segregated from “ordinary waste” and properly disposed of in compliant bags or containers.
Regulated medical waste has the potential to create high health risks for anyone who comes in contact with the infectious waste material, so it cannot be disposed of in the common garbage.
Potentially infectious medical waste must be strictly separated from other types of waste in medical settings closest to the point of origin. There are also strict packaging regulations to be followed.
For instance, biomedical waste should be disposed of in easy-to-identify red containers or bags that are clearly marked “Biohazard Waste” or “Biomedical.” This type of waste should also be stored in a clearly separate area from regular waste. The storage space of biomedical waste should also be kept properly ventilated and located to minimize exposure to the general public or animals. Most importantly, regulated medical waste should be secured against access to unauthorized persons.
The containers and bags used to dispose of regulated biomedical waste should be strong and durable enough to resist tearing or bursting when being stored, handled or transported for disposal.
Still, it is important to check your state’s specific regulations regarding the length of the storage period of medical waste, as this also differs.
Are Medications and Pharmaceuticals Classified as Regulated Medical Waste?
There are separate guidelines for the disposal of medications and pharmaceuticals. The EPA regulates and sets specific standards for managing the disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals.
Expired medications and pharmaceuticals are usually not classified as regulated medical waste. The main confusion in disposing of medications and pharmaceuticals arises from the lack of knowledge to distinguish between controlled substances and conventional medication.
Besides this, the process for disposing of expired medication and pharmaceuticals is different than for regulated medical waste (potentially infectious material). Hence, the two have different storage and disposal guidelines.
How to Properly Dispose of Regulated Medical Waste?
First off, you need to know your state’s specific definitions and guidelines regarding the disposal of regulated medical waste. Remember, there is a difference between a controlled substance and a potentially infectious pharmaceutical waste when it comes to disposal. Everyone who comes into contact with regulated medical waste, such as healthcare professionals, must follow certain procedures to ensure the waste is properly segregated and disposed of.
Educating and training healthcare professionals about the proper identification, segregation, storage, and disposal of regulated medical waste is extremely important. Every employee who collects and disposes of potentially infectious material should know about regulated medical waste management.
This can be effectively done by educating and training these professionals in EPA rules and maintaining compliance with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and its Bloodborne Pathogens Standards.
The proper way to identify regulated medical waste is to check if it is potentially infectious. It is usually an item that has come in contact with a person’s bodily fluids, specifically blood and blood components. Make sure to dispose of medical sharps (needles, syringes, scalpels, knives, etc.) in sharp-compliant containers.
Besides this, ensure that potentially blood-contaminated items from patients and healthcare workers alike are placed in compliant red bags/container waste bins.