Managing a medical practice can be stressful and no doubt, you’ve had a few sleepless nights along the way. Patient care is your main concern, so you probably don’t lie awake at night wondering where your facility’s medical waste goes after it is picked up by your waste provider. However, in this case, “Out of sight, out of mind” may not be the best approach.
When Your Medical Waste is “Out of Sight,” You Are Still Liable
It’s important to remember that you are still liable for your waste. Pickup and transportation is just one part of the process. After the medical waste leaves your practice, do you know exactly where it goes and how long it takes to get to a treatment facility? Where is the treatment facility; is it in the same state? Have you ever thought about the actual transportation process and what the inside of your waste provider’s truck looks like? Does it cross state lines? Once the waste reaches a facility, how long does it stay there? Is it treated at that facility? How is the waste treated and who treats it? Finally, when the treated waste leaves, where is its final destination?
Your Medical Waste On the Road
All medical waste must be safely and securely transported to a treatment or disposal facility. There are strict guidelines for transporting the waste, including segregating different types of waste inside the truck. Also, procedures are in place in the event of an accident, allowing for spill containment and cleanup, if necessary. Did you know that each vehicle is required to carry a written contingency plan for spills and accidents, as well as the tools and materials needed to implement the plan? Such measures are taken to protect the waste handlers, the public, and the environment from exposure to the potentially infectious waste.
There are also stringent requirements set forth by department of transportation for the vehicles themselves, including items such as keeping the vehicle in good repair and frequently cleaning it, and ensuring the overall durability of the vehicle.
Your waste manifest form should include the route your waste will take, which is an item to look at closely. Some medical waste disposal providers may have a big geographic footprint, which means they transport waste across state lines. They may transport your waste long distances for either treatment or final disposal. Providers who have their own treatment facilities may have a smaller footprint. Plus, if the facility is nearby, that is an added bonus since your waste will be on the road less. Less time on the road means reduced risk for you, the waste generator.
Ideally, your waste services provider should use dispatch software that allows them to pinpoint the location of your waste at any time. Vehicle routing and mapping technology is key to providing safe, efficient transportation.
Your Medical Waste Gets Treated
Once the waste arrives at a treatment or disposal facility, it must be carefully unloaded to avoid damaging the containers or spilling their contents. All manifests that have accompanied the waste must be signed by the next person who handles the waste. Any facility that stores infectious waste must have an operating license for storing solid waste and meet government regulations for containing, handling, storing, and treating medical waste.
Ask about capacity and scheduling at the treatment facility your waste provider uses. Even though your medical waste has been properly stored in compliant containers, it should not sit around for too long, either in a vehicle or in a treatment or disposal facility. If your waste was transported to a facility in another state, it is possible that yours might have to “take a number” and wait in line behind shipments from other trucks. You can check the dates on your certificate of destruction to confirm exactly when the waste was treated. Make sure your waste provider provides you a certificate of destruction after your waste is treated.
Your Medical Waste is Transported to Final Disposal
After your medical waste has been treated, it must be disposed of properly, with accurate documentation (certificate of destruction) of the process. If the treatment facility is close to the landfill where the waste is being transported, that is a plus for you. Again, the less time your waste is on the road, the less risk for you. Do you know the location of the “final resting place”?
One provision of the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) is the cradle-to-grave liability, which means you are not only responsible for regulated medical waste from the time it is generated until its ultimate disposal, but also including what happens to it 10 or even 110 years from now. It is your responsibility to ensure that your medical waste has been handled in a way to protect both human health and the environment. Knowing where your waste goes can help you do that.