What is Regulated Medical Waste

What is Regulated Medical Waste – Overview

Regulated medical waste is commonly known by many names, including biohazardous, infectious, biomedical, and red bag. This type of waste material is contaminated with bodily fluids, such as blood, or contains other infectious materials. This type of waste poses a substantial risk of transmitting infection.

Several aspects of waste are considered before it is deemed “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 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 potentially infectious medical waste.

It is a common misconception that the EPA regulates the collection and segregation of medical waste; however, these activities are primarily managed by state environmental and health departments. State environmental offices, such as the Waste Management Programs or Departments of Natural Resources, regulate them along with the health departments.

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 as biological infectious waste. However, regulated medical waste management in Arizona falls under the state’s Solid Waste Management Program.

Arizona state law defines regulated medical waste more specifically than this general statement, emphasizing excluding hazardous waste as defined in their statutes.

Similarly, other states have their definitions of what comprises regulated medical waste. If you wish to find your state’s guidelines for regulated medical waste, you can find them in your state government’s administration code definitions or regulations. Besides this, states’ guidelines and regulations for storing regulated medical waste differ.

To understand it more correctly, let’s take a closer look at what is regulated medical waste exactly.

Many items come in contact with bodily fluids, blood, or other infectious materials in medical settings. These could be at a hospital, doctor’s clinic, urgent or emergency care center, or even a piercing or tattoo parlor.

What is Regulated Medical Waste

What is Regulated Medical Waste – Potentially Infectious Items

These potentially infectious items include:

  • Used Band-Aids, bandages and gauze
  • Medical syringes, needles, medical knives, scalpels, etc.
  • Used masks worn by patients and healthcare workers
  • Used gowns worn by patients and healthcare workers

Remember that this is only a broad list. Each state has precise definitions for classifying and managing regulated medical waste. 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

Disposing of regulated medical waste in common municipal trash is prohibited due to the potential health risks it poses. 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. Strict packaging regulations must also be followed.

For instance, biomedical waste should be disposed of in easy-to-identify red containers or bags 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 unauthorized access by persons.

The containers and bags used to dispose of regulated biomedical waste should be solid and durable enough to resist tearing or bursting when stored, handled, or transported.

Still, it is important to check your state’s specific regulations regarding the length of the storage period of medical waste, as these also differ.

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 not classified as regulated medical waste but have separate disposal guidelines. 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, disposing of expired medication and pharmaceuticals differs from regulated medical waste (potentially infectious material). Hence, the two have different storage and disposal guidelines.

How to Properly Dispose of Regulated Medical Waste

First, 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.

See Also

Where to Donate Medical Equipment

What is NICU

Apps for Healthcare Professionals

Cultural Competence in Healthcare

Current Version
March 11, 2024
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.

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