Imagine this scenario: Your medical waste services provider makes a scheduled pickup after your practice has had a busy day of seeing patients. Unfortunately, your medical waste cannot be transported as scheduled, because it was not properly packaged and labeled. Does this sound like a stressful situation? It could be. Worse, it could possibly be a situation that endangers the health of your patients, employees, and the general public. Avoid any missteps in the medical waste disposal process by reviewing these guidelines for preparing your medical waste for pickup and transportation.
1. Collect and Segregate Your Medical Waste
Categorizing medical waste with the correct separation isolates each type so it can be managed in the proper way. Remember to never mix waste streams! Basically, there are five major categories: Sharps, biohazardous waste, trace chemotherapy waste, RCRA hazardous waste, and pharmaceutical waste.
- Sharps - needles & syringes, broken glass, blades, razors & scalpels, staples & wires, glass pipettes & tubes, microscope slides, other contaminated sharp items
- Biohazardous waste - blood & blood products, saturated or soiled disposable items, tissues & small pathology waste, blood & body fluid spill cleanup materials, dialyzers & tubing, anything contaminated with biohazardous waste that does not go in a sharps container
- Trace chemotherapy waste - empty syringes & needles, empty bags & bottles, gowns, gloves, masks, IV tubing, spill cleanup materials, empty drug vials
- RCRA hazardous waste - Radioactive waste, certain pharmaceuticals (D, U, & P Listed), Mercury filled devices - batteries, blood pressure cuffs & gauges,
- Pharmaceutical waste - pills, antibiotics, injectables (all categories of pharmaceuticals not D, U, or P Listed)
Anyone handling untreated medical waste should wear impermeable gloves and protective clothing to minimize exposure. Shoe covers are recommended if splashing could occur and washing hands with soap and water after any handling of medical waste is a must. Note: Contaminated broken glass should never be picked up by hand.
2. Use the Right Containers for Your Medical Waste
It’s critical to use the correct containers, both in terms of physical strength and appearance, for medical waste that will be transported off-site. Containers must be resilient and strong enough to resist breakage during the handling process—basically, puncture, leak, burst, and tear-resistant.
Sharps containers may be placed in red medical waste containers if there is a chance of leakage. The secondary container must be closable, appropriately labeled (see below) or color-coded red, and constructed to contain all contents and prevent leakage during handling, storage, and transport. Note: Never overfill containers.
3. Label and Prepare Your Medical Waste for Transport
Container labeling seems like a relatively easy task; however, label coding is a critical step in the medical waste disposal process. You need to make sure to use the correct:
- Type of ink
According to Alabama’s guidelines for medical waste disposal, containers must be labeled with the words “Infectious” or “Medical Waste” or “Biohazardous” along with the International Biological Hazard Symbol. If the container does not have a red background color, red lettering with a contrasting background color should be used. The ink has to be indelible and considered permanent if exposed to the environment under normal weather conditions. Finally, the wording should be either printed on the container or on a securely attached label on two or more sides.
The outermost layer of packaging (if smaller containers have been used) has to also include the following information:
- Name and address
- Date the waste was packaged in the outermost container
4. Store Your Medical Waste for Pickup
Once your medical waste has been properly segregated, it may need to be stored until pickup. (Note: Placing waste in a container at the point of generation such as an examining room would not be considered as storage.) For medical facilities that generate more than 220 pounds of medical waste per month, storage must not exceed seven calendar days from the date initial storage begins without refrigeration at a temperature less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Guidelines for medical waste storage include:
- A secure area that is inaccessible to the general public
- An area that is separated from food consumption areas
- A refrigerator or freezer that can be used, if necessary
5. Get the Proper Documentation for Your Medical Waste
Now that your medical practice’s medical waste has been properly prepared and picked up for transportation, you can relax, right? Not so fast! You are responsible for medical waste even after it leaves your facility. Any permits required for the transport and delivery of your medical waste should be kept on file and you should know where your medical waste is going. Be sure to receive a signed manifest document from your medical waste services provider before the waste leaves your facility. This is the most important part of the transportation process. Finally, you should receive a certificate of destruction from your medical waste transporter after the medical waste is rendered non-infectious or destroyed and disposed.
Proper segregation, packaging, labeling, and storage of your medical waste will help ensure that it will be accepted upon pick up by your medical waste services provider. Are there any gaps in your medical waste disposal process? Download our quick reference waste handling guide to see. Click the red button below.