Medical Waste

Medical waste is all waste materials generated at health care facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, physician’s offices, dental practices, blood banks, veterinary hospitals/clinics, medical research facilities and laboratories.  The Medical Waste tracking Act of 1988 defines medical waste as “any solid waste that is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals, in research pertaining thereto, or in the production or testing of biologicals.”  Medical Waste includes blood-soaked bandages, culture dishes and other glassware, discarded surgical gloves, discarded surgical instruments, discarded needles used to give shots or draw blood, cultures, stocks, swabs used to inoculate cultures, removed body organs, and discarded lancets.

Improper management of discarded needles and other sharps pose a health risk to the public and waste workers.  Used needles can transmit serious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis.

The Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal promotes public awareness and solutions for safe disposal of needles, syringes, and other sharps in the community.  The Coalition has identified several types of safe disposal programs for self- injectors such as drop box or supervised collection sites, mail-back programs, Syringe Exchange Programs (SEP), and At-home needle destruction devices.

Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988

The Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) was enacted in 1988.  The Act amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act.  It defined medical waste and established which medical wastes would be subject to program regulations.  The MWTA required management standards for segregation, packaging, labeling and marking, and storage of the medical waste.  The Act also established record keeping requirements and penalties that could be imposed for mismanagement.  The MWTA required the EPA to examine various treatment technologies such as incinerators and autoclaves, microwave units and various chemical and mechanical systems for their ability to reduce the disease causing potential of medical waste.

According to  the EPA, the disease-causing potential of medical waste is greatest at the point of generation and naturally tapers off after that point.  Therefore, the occupationally exposed individual is more at risk of disease caused by exposure to medical waste than the general public.  Medical waste disposal is primarily regulated at the state level.


Inside Medical Waste