10 Things to Know About Medical Waste Compliance

Medical Waste Compliance

Medical waste is a form of solid waste that is regulated by numerous agencies. These agencies impose, what can be, complicated regulations that make medical waste compliance difficult. Below are ten things about medical waste compliance that you may not know but should.

  1. Based on the 33 pounds of waste produced from each staffed bed every day, U.S. hospitals produce more than 5.9 million tons of medical waste each year. And that doesn’t include medical waste from medical, dental, veterinary, pharmacy, home care and other small quantity generators across the country.
  2. While your regular trash disposal costs $.03-$.08 per pound to dispose of, regulated medical waste (RMW) can cost anywhere from $.20 to $.50 per pound.
  3. Besides sharps, waste is typically regulated as medical waste when it contains liquid blood or certain other body fluids (called other potentially infectious materials – OPIM) or is saturated with blood or OPIM.
  4. In the 1980s, used syringes washed up on East Coast beaches, encouraging the passage of the Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) of 1988, which was in effect for two years in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Puerto Rico.
  5. The MWTA accomplished four things: it (i) defined medical waste and determined which wastes to regulate; (ii) created a cradle-to-grave tracking system; (iii) established standards for segregation, packaging, labeling and storage for medical waste and (iv) instituted record-keeping requirements and penalties for mismanagement.
  6. When the MWTA expired, individual states passed laws and regulations which looked very similar to the MWTA. Today, individual states, not the federal government, regulate the disposal of medical waste generated within each state.
  7. However, several federal agencies do regulate the handling of medical waste along the chain of custody from cradle to grave. These agencies include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (employee safety), Department of Transportation and United States Postal Service (transport), Drug Enforcement Agency (disposal of controlled drugs), Environmental Protection Agency (treatment/disposal facilities and disposal of hazardous drugs) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (guidelines for infection control).
  8. There are several ways disposal facilities treat medical waste, including steam sterilization (autoclave) and incineration. Autoclave is used for virtually all medical waste except those wastes that must be incinerated, which include drugs, pathology and trace chemo. Once autoclaved, some disposal companies, such as Sharps Compliance, recycle the plastics and metals or use them as an alternative fuel source instead of placing them into the landfill.
  9. All blood or OPIM-contaminated items must be handled safely. But items that are contaminated may not be contaminated enough to be considered medical waste. Make sure you only dispose of RMW in designated containers and items that are not medical waste into the regular trash. The disposal cost for medical waste is as much as 2000% more than for regular trash. Proper segregation can redirect dollars that could be used for better patient care, needed equipment, additional employees or higher employee compensation.
  10. The DOT requires that anyone who “prepares medical waste for transport” must be trained in the proper procedure. Training must be documented and repeated every two years. States can also require medical waste training. This training is in addition to OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens annual training, which includes handling of medical waste by employees. Since DOT does not regulate USPS-authorized mailback systems, there are no formal mandated training standards for mailback disposal systems. However, it is important to train the person who packages the waste on the instructions for use that come with each mailback system.