Keeping Biohazard Waste out of the Environment

Have you ever sat in a doctor’s office waiting room anticipating your appointment and looked around? Before the nurse or doctor arrived, did you ever notice a trash can with a different colored bag, or a red plastic container with syringes in them? These are containers specifically made for discarding biohazard waste.

Biohazard waste is any waste that contains infectious substances, materials, or anything that can cause injury while handling. There are approximately four types of biohazard waste and specific ways to store and dispose of them:

  • Solid Biohazardous Waste – anything that is not a sharp (DNA, specimen or culture particles, plastic such as culture plates or specimen vials, towels, bench paper, tubes of blood). To dispose of this type of waste, a thick, autoclave bag needs to line a container, this prevents the waste from coming through the bag. Medical waste companies should be contracted to pick up and dispose of these containers.
  • Liquid Biohazardous Waste – large amounts of blood, blood products, or body fluids. Liquids need to be stored in containers with absolutely no leaks, this will keep contamination from happening. The containers should then be placed in another tray or bucket. These can be disposed of by either a disinfectant in a sink or an autoclave treatment.
  • Biohazardous Sharps – needles, syringes, capillary tubes, scalpels, slides for microscopes, pipettes, and small glass or broken tubes containing fluids or particles. Sharps always need to be put in a biohazardous sharps container, made for storing and disposing of the sharps. When the containers are ¾ full, they are disposed of by a contracted company who comes in and collects them; lids must always be closed on sharps containers.
  • Pathological Waste – tissues, body parts, organs, etc. This waste must be in two biohazard bags that have a biohazard symbol on them. They should be placed in a tray or bucket that has sides to keep them up-right and from spilling.

Places you may find biohazardous waste include hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, laboratories, mortuaries, autopsy centers, blood banks, jails and prisons, casinos, and animal clinics. According to the World Health Organization, of all waste generated by healthcare activities, “85% is general, non-hazardous waste but the remaining 15% is hazardous and may be infectious, toxic, or radioactive.”

Although we can never get rid of biohazardous waste, you can prevent excess waste. If you work in the medical field, make sure that people know that the bags and containers are only for biohazardous waste. Disposing of other trash items should not occur in the containers or bags. If you are transporting or disposing of biohazardous waste, always wear a pair of gloves and make sure to label each bag/container with what it is and where it came from. It is important to make sure the waste does not spill and contaminate other things and/or people.

The most important thing to do with biohazardous waste is to make sure it gets disposed of. If any of it were to end up in the trash, it could ultimately end up in oceans and wash up on beaches. If you are unsure of regulations for disposal, transportation, labeling, handling, treatment or storage of biohazardous waste, there are a few companies you can contact: Department of Transportation (DOT), OSHA, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).


Photo Credit: Paige L.

Written by: Melissa S.