Pharmacies and Medical Pharmaceutical Waste: What You Need to Know to Protect the Environment and Your Business

pharmaceutical waste solutionsThe average neighborhood pharmacy generates a good amount of medical and pharmaceutical waste, and the amount and types of waste they generate has been steadily increasing in recent years as their roles in their communities expand. While those roles were once largely limited to filling prescriptions and selling over-the-counter medications and other health-related merchandise, many are branching out to provide other services.

Today’s pharmacy is very likely to offer immunization clinics, host blood drives, offer health screenings, provide health education, host wellness programs and provide consumers with a place to bring unused medications or needles/syringes for safe disposal. The addition of these and other common services leads to additional challenges in waste management for the modern pharmacy, and the process is further complicated by increasing regulatory oversight of medical and pharmaceutical waste disposal practices. So, given these challenges, what do you need to know to protect the environment and your business?

The Basics on Proper Waste Separation

Managing medical and pharmaceutical waste properly depends heavily on knowing exactly how to separate different types of waste according to the categories set forth by state and federal regulations. Here we’ll outline the basic categories of pharmaceutical and medical waste that you need to know for safe and compliant waste management.

Basic categories for pharmaceutical waste that you need to have a handle on include:

  • RCRA Hazardous waste – This category includes medications and other substances that are on the RCRA’s P, U or D lists, and is segregated into specialized waste containers that are typically black for easy identification.
  • Non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste – Generally segregated into blue or green waste containers, this category includes medications and other pharmaceuticals that are not on RCRA lists.
  • Controlled substances – Pharmacies generally must send controlled substance waste to a DEA registered facility to be destroyed.
Medical waste categories that today’s pharmacies may need to be aware of include:
  • Contaminated sharps – Generally segregated into a red sharps container, this category of waste includes used needles and syringes, razors, lancets and any other contaminated sharps items that pose a risk of breaking the skin and transmitting disease.
  • Biohazardous waste – This waste may be placed in a red container or a receptacle that contains a red plastic liner. Items that belong in this category include blood and blood products, any disposable items, such as catheters, tubing, gowns, gloves and bandages, for example, that are soiled with blood, body fluids or other potentially infectious materials.

Prioritize Training and Education

While a certain amount of training on waste management is required for some employees under state and federal regulations, it may benefit your business to move beyond those minimum standards for safety and compliance training to provide more frequent and comprehensive education for a wider range of workers. Everyone who interacts with pharmaceutical and medical waste in any way could benefit from training, whether or not it is required. Offering frequent refresher courses is also wise, aiding employees in keeping current with new rules and remembering the details of old ones. Of course, all that training is an investment, but it is one that is sure to pay off in terms of protecting the environment, your employees and your business.

This can be especially important for pharmacies that are moving towards providing a wider range of services in their communities. Your staff is likely to be familiar with the general rules for pharmaceutical waste handling (although they are changing yet again) – but how much experience do they have managing medical waste, particularly contaminated sharps and other biohazardous wastes? If you are just beginning to offer immunizations, health screenings or other services that bring new categories of waste into the mix, updating training for these new waste streams must be a priority.

About Waste Pick-Up And Liability

One of the more important things to know about medical and pharmaceutical waste management is that your business remains liable for what happens to that waste until it is rendered harmless. In other words, having it picked up by a waste management company is not the end of the road in terms of your responsibility, and you can still be fined should that waste be mishandled. For that reason, protecting the environment and your business means choosing your waste management provider carefully. Make sure your provider is fully certified for medical and pharmaceutical waste management and has a solid track record of maintaining full compliance with all state and federal regulations.


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