Infectious/Biohazardous Waste

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Infectious/Biohazardous Waste

Proper management of infectious waste (also referred to as medical waste, biohazard waste, red bag waste, and regulated medical waste) is very important because of its potential risk of causing health problems and environmental concerns. Waste that should be considered infectious is usually defined by the healthcare facility's infection control and/or safety committee and may vary between organizations. For example, some facilities may define all used gloves as infectious waste, while other facilities may consider only gloves with visible contamination as infectious waste. It is important to know and follow facility-specific policies.
In accordance with OSHA, infectious waste should be disposed into waste containers that are clearly identifiable from non-infectious waste. The container must be labeled with the biohazard symbol (shown in the image) in fluorescent orange or orange-red, or predominantly so, with lettering and symbols in a contrasting color. Red bags or containers can be substituted for labels. The container should be constructed to contain all contents and prevent the leakage of fluids during handling, storage, transport, or shipping.
  • Dispose of infectious waste only in containers that are red and/or are labeled with the biohazard symbol.
  • The chart below lists sources of infectious waste in a healthcare setting identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Table 1. EPA infectious waste sources found in healthcare environment
EPA Waste SourceExamples
Human blood and blood products
  • Blood, serum, plasma, and other blood components or their waste
Pathological waste
  • Wet tissues, organs, body parts, blood, and body fluids removed during surgery, biopsy, or auropsy
Cultures and stocks of infectious agents
  • Medical and pathology laboratory specimens
  • Cultures from clinical laboratories
  • Disposable culture dishes and devices used to transfer, innoculate, and mix cultures
Contaminated sharps
  • Used hypodermic needles, syringes, multiple sample needles
  • Blood collection sets, or tube holders
  • Used scalpel blades
Isolation wastes
  • Blood, excretions, exudates, and secretions from patients with communicable diseases
Contaminated surgical, dialysis, and laboratory wastes
  • Wastes generated by surgery, dialysis, and laboratory departments in the process of caring for patients who have communicable diseases which are capable of transmission to others via those wastes
Each area where infectious waste is generated should have clearly distinguishable waste containers easily accessible for contaminated and non-contaminated waste. The risk of disease transmission is greatest at the point of origin, but it persists throughout the chain of waste handling, including waste handlers and waste haulers. Careful separation of infectious waste from other waste streams at the point of generation reduces the risk of potential exposure or injury.