Biohazard Waste Disposal Regulations

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

How should a doctor's office dispose of a syringe that was used on a patient? How should a hospital dispose of blood-soaked bandages? Learn the answer to these questions, and other biohazard waste disposal regulations by reading this lesson!

Preventing Diseases

What do HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C all have in common? For one, they are all very serious, potentially life-threatening diseases. Secondly, all three of these diseases can be transmitted by coming in to contact with various bodily fluids of an infected person.

Every day, people with infectious diseases are treated in doctor's offices, hospitals, and other medical facilities. During these visits, their blood often contaminates various objects and materials such as needles and bandages. These needles, bandages, or other materials contaminated with blood are known as biohazard waste. In order to help prevent biohazardous waste from coming into contact with other people and possibly causing infection, several different regulations have been established in regards to how these items should be disposed of.

Bandages, needles, or other medical equipment and materials that are contaminated with blood are considered biohazard waste.
bloody bandage

Biohazard Waste Disposal Regulations

Most regulations on biohazard waste disposal are established on a state-by-state basis, meaning that Florida may have slightly different regulations compared to Texas. However, even though each state comes up with their own regulations, these regulations are very similar across the country. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a set of guidelines for biohazardous waste disposal that has been used as a model nationwide. Many state's biohazardous waste disposal regulations are based on these EPA guidelines. The following sections describe some common regulations that are practiced in most states across the country.

Disposal of Sharps

Sharps refer to medical equipment that can cut or puncture the skin, such as needles, syringes, and razors. Since these pieces of equipment are used to penetrate the skin, they are often contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids that can transmit disease. Therefore, it is vitally important that they are disposed of very carefully.

Most state regulations require that all sharps must be disposed of in specialized sharps containers. These containers must be:

  • Red in color and labeled with the universal 'biohazard' symbol (they are sometimes allowed to be yellow)
  • Made of thick, strong, dense plastic material that cannot be penetrated by the sharps
  • Replaced frequently and not allowed to be overfilled
  • Leak proof
  • Located in an area close to where the sharps materials are used on patients

This picture shows several examples of sharps containers.
sharps container

Once the sharps are collected in their proper containers, they will then be sterilized through microwaves, steam, or special chemicals. For example, a hospital will collect all sharps containers and then place these contaminated sharps in a large machine that applies very high heat, steam (called autoclave sterilization), or special chemicals to the sharps in order to kill the microorganisms that may cause disease. These materials must then be stored in an approved and licensed disposal facility.

Disposal of Contaminated Bandages, Gauze, Etc.

Most states have regulations that require bandages, gauze, bed sheets, and other non-sharps' materials that are contaminated with blood and other infectious bodily fluids to be disposed of in specially marked red, leak-proof waste bags. These bags are also to be marked with the standard 'biohazard' symbol. These materials must also be sterilized and then taken to an approved and licensed disposal facility.

This is an example of a biohazard waste bag used for contaminated bandages, gauze, and other non-sharp materials.
biohazard bag

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