August 8, 2017


Kevin Webber
Types of Medical Waste Streams

types-of-medical-waste-streams.jpgAre you properly separating your medical waste? Your medical facility produces several types of waste streams, and you need a full understanding of what goes into each category to make sure they’re handled properly.

Regulated medical waste is a catch-all term that covers the items that fall under federal and state disposal regulations. Some regions call this material biomedical waste or infectious waste. Federal laws that define and regulate hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste include the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Title 40 and the Code of Federal Regulations. Each state also provides its own definition of the regulated medical waste covered by its laws. While the details vary between regions, you typically see these six categories.

Biological Waste

Biological waste poses a potential infection risk as this category includes materials such as bacteria cultures and live vaccines. When you sort waste into biohazard bags, you must have it treated at a medical waste treatment facility.

Contaminated Sharps

Needles, syringes and blades fall under the sharps category. They are to be secured in a specially markets, heavy-duty container to reduce the risk of someone being injured when disposing of them. Your state may have specific regulations on the exact container to use for this purpose, but in general, it should prominently display the biohazard symbol.

Pathology Waste

The tissue samples from tests and biological matter removed during surgery are examples of pathology waste. Anything that was once a part of an animal or a human goes into this category.

Pharmaceutical Waste

Expired, unused, contaminated or discontinued medications can pose a risk to humans, animals and the environment. When you need to get rid of drugs, they are considered pharmaceutical waste. The primary disposal requirement is to destroy the drugs in a way that they can’t be retrieved and used by someone in the future. One way to accomplish this task is through a denaturing agent, although a medical waste disposal service can advise you on the appropriate federal and state requirements.

Pharmaceutical waste is divided into hazardous and non-hazardous materials. An example of a hazardous material that requires additional handling processes would be bulk chemotherapy drugs. The needles, vials and other materials that help transport chemotherapy drugs to a patient are considered hazardous and must be separated. Trace Chemotherapy drugs are less than 3% of its therapeutic dose remains intact (including gowns, glove, masks used in the administration of the chemotherapy waste for which there are no spills or leaks on them), then it may be managed as non-hazardous “trace” chemotherapy waste.

Anything that comes in the slightest contact with chemotherapy medicine must be segregated from the biomedical waste stream.

Non-hazardous materials do not represent a significant risk to the people handling them, so the requirements for disposal are generally not as stringent.

Human Blood and Related Products

Blood, serum, and plasma waste are the obvious materials that fall under this category, but other things contaminated with blood are also covered. For example, if urine has blood in it, it would be treated the same.

Microbiological Waste

Infectious waste and its associated biological materials must be handled carefully to avoid exposing people to contaminants. The tools used in dealing with these agents also get treated as a hazardous material. Live vaccines, culture dishes, etiologic material and infectious laboratory waste, along with anything that could pose an infection risk to humans, get sorted into microbiological waste.

Isolation Waste

Patients who are isolated in medical facilities due to their risk of the spread of disease have their waste handled on its own. This potentially communicable waste material may be generated by humans or animals, and it includes items contaminated with bodily fluids such as blood. Some of the highly infectious communicable diseases that result in isolation include Ebola, Lassa fever, and Marburg.

Contaminated Animals

Animals, their bodily fluids, and their body parts used in the research of infectious agents fall under their own category. Typically, this waste gets generated during the research or testing of diseases and drug treatments.

Understanding the categories that govern regulated waste, the containers required for each type, and the best ways to dispose of the materials, positions your medical facility to be fully compliant with federal and state laws.  In the long-term, this will decrease compliance-related stressors.


Simplify your job and stay up-to-date on compliance changes in the hazardous waste industry.

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