Three Common Mistakes in Segregating Waste

Things are running smoothly at your medical practice since you’ve conducted compliance training and among other training requirements, your employees know how to correctly categorize and segregate medical waste. However, handling medical waste can be confusing and mistakes can still happen. In fact, some regulations regarding medical waste can be confusing for even the most conscientious employee. We’re sharing a few of the most common mistakes made when separating waste streams.

Waste Classification Mistakes to Avoid

Man-Putting-Medical-Waste-in-Wrong-Bin Regulated medical waste (RMW) is a catch-all term that covers items that fall under federal and state disposal regulations. The typical categories of RMW include: biological waste, contaminated sharps, pathology waste, and pharmaceutical waste. Categorizing medical waste with the correct separation isolates each type so it can be managed properly. Waste streams should never be mixed. Even when your staff is educated and knows exactly what kinds of medical waste your practice produces, missteps happen.

Here are three common mistakes that your medical practice should avoid:

1) Not Using the Correct Container

Medical waste that will be transported off-site must be in the correct containers, both in terms of physical strength and appearance. The containers must be puncture-, leak-, burst-, and tear-resistant. Basically, they should be strong enough to resist any breakage during the handling process.

Here is a quick guide to container usage:



Red Sharps Container Sharps
Red Container with a Red Liner Biohazardous waste
Yellow Container Trace Chemotherapy waste
Black Container RCRA hazardous wasre
Blue or Green Container Pharmaceutical Waste

For more detailed information, you can download our free Complete Waste Handling Guide.

2) Placing Sharps in a Regular Waste Bin

As you know, combining medical waste with other waste is a big mistake. The item was probably not a needle; but rather, some other type of sharp. This category of waste includes any device or object used to puncture or cut the skin — such as EpiPens, insulin pens, lancets, and glass. Even unbroken glassware that hasn’t necessarily been contaminated could need sharps disposal. Just one misplaced sharp contaminates everything in the bin. Not to mention the fact that your employees risk exposure to dangerous pathogens. Putting items into the wrong container should always be avoided, but when that item is a sharp, the risk becomes much higher.

3) Mishandling Empty Pharmaceutical Waste Containers

Regulatory requirements for managing pharmaceutical waste are complex. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulates and lists the drugs that must be managed as hazardous waste. Hazardous waste pharmaceuticals are either on the P-List, U-List, or the D-List (also known as characteristic waste.) The empty containers that held P-Listed drugs must be managed differently. These containers (such as syringes, tubing, IV bags, and vials) are also considered hazardous waste and must be handled appropriately. Learn more about the basics of pharmaceutical waste disposal including what qualifies as a P-Listed drug and when P-listed waste containers are considered to be legally empty or “RCRA empty.”

Are you classifying your medical waste properly and is your office compliant? Our Medical Office Compliance Bundle can ensure that your medical office follows best practices.


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