Hazardous Waste in Healthcare, Part 1: DEFINING HAZARDOUS WASTE

One of the biggest challenges for today’s healthcare workers is defining the different categories of waste streams they manage on a daily basis. Even the names can be confusing. There’s hazardous, biohazardous, RCRA, universal, pharmaceutical, regulated medical, red bag, pathological, chemo, infectious, isolation, and the list goes on. Perhaps the most confusing and dangerous wastes facilities deal with is hazardous waste. Hazardous waste in healthcare is much more complicated than biohazardous waste and more often than not, improperly recognized and categorized by healthcare professionals. So, what is hazardous waste?

What is Hazardous Waste?

The first step in identifying hazardous waste is learning to recognize products that will be considered hazardous wastes when discarded or as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it, “no longer of value.”1 This could occur when the material has expired, e.g., drugs or when it is no longer needed, e.g. mercury-containing thermostats. The EPA developed four lists of specific hazardous wastes (Listed Wastes) and four hazardous waste types with defining characteristics (Characteristic Wastes) to help determine specific hazards.

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