Cure the Confusion: Limit Contents of Red Biohazard Bags

Most people who work within the healthcare industry, whether they are clinical staff or in administrative positions, are aware that red waste bags are specially made to isolate certain types of medical waste. These are waste products that can pose an infection hazard should they be mixed with regular trash that is likely to end up in the local landfill. However, the rules on medical waste disposal can be confusing, and things can get murky when it comes to determining just which waste products belong in these bags and which do not.

red-bag-medical-hazardous-waste-469258 Medical waste service professionals see evidence of that confusion regularly as they handle waste generated by medical practices, clinics and other healthcare facilities. Red biohazard bags, in particular, are often found to contain waste that has been misclassified by clinical staff at the point of collection. In some cases, classification mistakes result in items that belong in the regular trash taking up space in biohazard bags. In others, items that should be segregated into other waste streams, such as sharps containers or hazardous waste containers, for instance, are found in red bags.

For practice managers and administrators, these types of mistakes are frustrating. They are especially so when they lead to problems for their employers, such as waste pick-up hassles, inflated medical waste disposal costs or worse yet, violations and/or fines. To help you as you work to prevent such problems, here’s some clarification on what should go in those red bags – and what should not.

What should go in red biohazard bags

Red medical waste bags are for the disposal of regulated medical waste that is biohazardous, which means it has the potential to spread bloodborne pathogens. According to OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, this includes liquid or semi-liquid blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), contaminated items that would release blood or OPIM in a liquid or semi-liquid state if compressed, items that are caked with dried blood or OPIM and are capable of releasing these materials during handling, and pathological and microbiological wastes containing blood or OPIM.

Basically, if blood or OPIM could drip or flake off of a waste item or be squeezed out of it during handling, it belongs in the red bag for disposal. That means that the following common medical waste products should go in red bags:

  • Blood, blood products and OPIM
  • Dressings, cotton balls, specimen swabs or other materials soaked or caked with blood or OPIM
  • Paper towels and other disposable materials used to clean up spills containing blood or OPIM
  • Disposable gloves or gowns soaked/caked with blood or OPIM
  • Tubing contaminated with visible blood or OPIM
  • Urine specimen cups with visible blood
  • Tissues and small pathology waste
  • Used culture plates, tubes or bottles

Red Bags: What should not go in

Waste products that often get tossed into red bags, but do not belong in them include:

  • Diapers or pads soaked with urine or soiled with feces
  • Vomit or vomit-soaked materials
  • IV bags
  • Patient drapes (Unless saturated with blood or OPIM)
  • Disposable gowns and masks (Unless saturated with blood or OPIM)
  • Paper exam table covers (Unless saturated with blood or OPIM)
  • Bulk liquids
  • Loose sharps

While these lists can give you a better idea on medical waste disposal rules regarding what should and should not go into red bags, they are certainly not all-inclusive. If you have questions about how to properly classify and dispose of specific waste products generated in your workplace, your medical waste service provider should be able help you answer them. Finally, misclassification of medical waste is a persistent problem in your workplace, it may be wise to ask your waste services provider about compliance training for your staff. Many offer a variety of training courses that can help improve staff performance and streamline your waste management process.


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