Last updated on June 29, 2022
Hazardous and biohazardous wastes can potentially harm human, animal, and environmental health and wellbeing. These two types of wastes differ in composition, origin, dangers, and disposal methods. Waste generators need to understand the difference between biohazardous and hazardous wastes to protect the staff and the public, comply with all applicable regulations, and avoid fines and penalties.
Hazardous Waste Examples
Hazardous waste is any waste that contains dangerous chemicals, including heavy metals, flammable liquids, corrosive material, and other contaminants that can directly harm living creatures and the environment. Per the EPA, “hazardous waste may come in many forms, including liquids, solids, gases, and sludges.”
Healthcare facilities and veterinary clinics may generate small quantities of hazardous wastes and hazardous wastes pharmaceuticals (HWP). The vast majority of hazardous waste is generated from large quantity generators in the industrial sector, including semiconductors, automobiles, and allied chemical industries. Common hazardous waste streams in healthcare include:
- Flammable liquid mixtures
- Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals, including warfarin/coumadin, insulin, and medical aerosols/inhalers
- X-ray Process Waste (fixer/developer solutions, film, and lead aprons)
Some pharmaceuticals (including their containers) must be managed as hazardous waste. Visit the EPA website for more information about P-list, U-list, or characteristic wastes that must be handled according to guidelines for HWP. Note that these drugs are not the same as the hazardous drug list maintained by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Learn more about the difference between hazardous drugs and hazardous waste pharmaceuticals.
Households can also generate hazardous waste. Our infographic lists items you should never put in your household trash, and the accompanying article discusses safe disposal options.
Biohazardous Waste Examples
Biohazardous waste is medical waste that has the potential to spread disease or pathogens to humans. It’s usually generated at healthcare facilities, including hospitals, dental offices, veterinary clinics, and laboratories, but tattoo studios, medspas, and funeral homes also generate biohazardous regulated medical wastes (RMW).
Biohazardous medical waste types include:
- Sharps waste (needles, scalpels, etc.)
- Pathological and anatomical waste
- Microbiological waste
- Blood, blood products, and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM)
- Zoonotic waste
- Contaminated items that would release blood or blood products or OPIM in a liquid or semi-liquid state if compressed
- Isolation waste
Households and individuals also generate biohazardous waste – mostly used sharps. This waste can be a danger to others when improperly disposed of in recycling bins, regular trash, or in public places.
Technically, there is no material difference between the terms biohazardous waste and regulated medical waste, but regulatory terminology varies by state:
“For example, Arizona state regulations refer to the disposal and management of “biohazardous medical waste” instead of the more commonly used term “regulated medical waste.” In contrast, Mississippi uses the terms “infectious medical waste” and “medical waste” to differentiate between potentially infectious RMW and non-infectious medical waste.”
Hazardous Waste and Biohazardous Waste Disposal
Federal and state agencies strictly regulate both hazardous and biohazardous waste disposal.
Hazardous waste is defined at the federal level by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The EPA maintains a list of applicable RCRA hazardous waste regulations. Federal agencies, such as the EPA, OSHA, and DOT, have regulations regarding hazardous and biohazardous medical waste handling, storage, transportation, and treatment. For example:
- EPA “has jurisdiction over medical waste treatment technologies, which claim to reduce the infectiousness of the waste using chemicals.”
- DOT “regulates the transportation of wastes it deems capable of posing an unreasonable risk to safety, health, and property when transported.” It does this through mandatory employee training as well as requirements for waste classification, packaging, and paperwork.
- OSHA medical waste regulations focus on workplace safety issues, such as needlestick prevention, red bag waste classification and management, and employee safety training.
However, most regulation is at the state and local level. State medical waste regulations differ, and states are free to impose stricter regulations than federal requirements.
Some state hazardous waste classifications are more stringent than federal requirements. Generators must be aware of their state requirements and hazardous waste generator category to ensure that they follow all storage and reporting requirements. Mistakes cost money: a non-conforming hazardous waste stream sent to a treatment facility may incur extra costs for remediation, or worse, be rejected and returned to the generator.
Do You Need Help Managing Your Hazardous and Medical Wastes?
Sharps Compliance can help answer your questions about your RCRA generator status and other waste disposal issues, including state and federal regulations, employee training, cradle-to-grave waste tracking, and more. We offer comprehensive solutions for managing biohazardous regulated medical waste, unused pharmaceuticals, and hazardous waste.
Contact us at 800.772.5857 or request a service quote online.