surgery center medical waste

Last updated on January 27, 2021

All surgery centers must comply with state and federal regulations governing the handling and disposal of regulated medical wastes (RMW), including discarded sharps and pharmaceutical waste. Even small waste generators like cosmetic surgery providers and oral surgery centers are covered. They must ensure that all staffers understand how to correctly identify, segregate, package, and store medical waste.

Proper medical waste handling helps protect staff, patients, and the environment. It can even affect your budget!

Control Disposal Costs with Proper Waste Identification and Segregation

Train your staff to identify the different types of waste generated in your facility to be properly segregated.

  • General waste: General waste is medical waste not contaminated by blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). This includes used PPE and other working materials not visibly soiled from routine patient care. Additionally, this waste category includes office trash, kitchen waste, plastic wrappers, and shipping boxes. These wastes are either eligible for recycling (check your local regulations) or are placed into regular trash collection containers.
  • Pharmaceutical waste: Pharmaceutical waste can create a serious hazard to human health and the environment if not disposed of safely. Proper disposal is even more critical when the pharmaceutical waste is also classified as hazardous waste pharmaceutical (HWP) or a scheduled drug. Federal regulations require special handling and disposal of HWPs and even some of their containers. Controlled substances (schedules II, III, IV, and V drugs) must be compliantly disposed of per the DEA’s Final Rule.
  • Regulated medical waste, biohazardous medical waste, infectious medical waste: These terms describe medical waste that has the potential to transmit infectious diseases. States may use different words to describe it, but all states and the federal government have strict regulations about handling and disposing of it. Make sure your staff understands the difference between generic medical waste and regulated medical waste. Regulated medical waste regulations may be stricter state to state but must at least to follow the standards outlined in OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (BBP). The BBP Standard requires all items saturated or caked with blood or OPIM to be disposed of in a regulated manner.
  • Sharps waste: Regulated medical waste includes used sharps like needles, lancets, syringes, knives, or other objects that can pierce the skin and can injure staff, patients, or sanitation workers if they aren’t disposed of properly. Accidental needlesticks can expose people to dangerous bloodborne pathogens, including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. The BBP Standard requires all sharps be disposed of in a sharps container. FDA-cleared sharps containers are specially designed to protect healthcare workers, patients, waste handlers, and the public.
  • Hazardous waste: Never place hazardous wastes in a red bag with RMW or in a sharps container. Regulated medical and hazardous wastes require different containment, transportation, and treatment methods to render them harmless. Your surgery center may need to dispose of different types of hazardous waste, including used fluorescent bulbs, batteries, medical devices that contain mercury, and certain chemicals.

One of the most common segregation errors in any healthcare facility is mixing other types of waste with regulated or hazardous wastes. Our three-part series “What’s Going Into That Red Bag?” describes common classification errors and explains how to avoid them.

Proper segregation saves money because the disposal cost for RMW is significantly higher than regular trash disposal.

Follow All Regulations Regarding On-site Storage

Do you know how long your surgery center can store regulated medical waste on-site and how to label it?  The answers depend on the type of wastes being stored and your state’s regulations. This can get complicated quickly, especially if your company has operations in multiple states.

Our article “How State Medical Waste Regulations Differ” describes variations in state regulatory requirements. For example, some jurisdictions require waste generators to register. Others may require you to create and maintain a facility-specific waste management plan. Sharps customers have access to the Sharps Regulatory Hub website, which provides an interactive map linking to each state’s RMW rules.

Comply with All Rules Regarding the Packaging and Transport of RMW Containers

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the transportation of hazardous materials, including regulated medical waste via highways, waterways, and air travel. The federal agency also mandates training for any employee responsible for the packaging, labeling, shipping, or other duty related to preparing RMW for shipment. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your staff members receive the proper training and maintain up-to-date certification.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) regulates what may and may not be shipped through the mail and how the waste must be packaged for mailing. The USPS prohibits some types of medical wastes, including body parts, liquid wastes, and Category A infectious wastes from mail shipment.

In addition to DOT and USPS requirements, remember that individual states may also impose additional rules and regulations:

  • States can limit what types of wastes they allow the USPS to transport.
  • States may impose quantity limits on regulated waste shipped through the mail and/or limit mailback use to small quantity generators.
  • States can require specific labeling on sharps containers or transport boxes.
  • States may limit the time a generator can store regulated wastes before transport.

Learn How a Medical Waste Disposal Management Partner Can Help

Yes, regulated medical waste management is complicated and complex. Surgery centers, like many healthcare providers, already struggle with heavy workloads. Caring for patients is their priority, not combing through the Federal Register looking for regulatory updates!

Still, someone must monitor compliance because the cost of non-compliance can be steep.

Violators face fines and regulatory penalties – and the bad publicity that accompanies such sanctions. That’s why many surgery centers look to Sharps Compliance for help with their regulated medical waste and hazardous waste disposal needs.

Here’s how we can help:

  • ComplianceTrac: This online compliance and training management system allows 24/7 access to help employees achieve the required training requirements. It also offers online access to safety data sheets (no more heavy, dusty manuals!), helps you develop customized safety plans, and conduct workplace audits.
  • SharpsTracer: Track and verify the receipt and treatment of returned waste. It helps avoid paperwork errors by eliminating the need for paper-based manifest tracking and on-site paper document storage.
  • Affordable, transparent pricing: Our all-inclusive pricing means no surprises: no hidden fees or unexpected costs.
  • Custom solutions: We work with you to develop the best waste disposal solution for your facility. You can use our mailback options, schedule on-site pickups, or use a combination of the two as your needs change.

Contact us to learn more and receive an expert quote.

Lindsey earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Excelsior College and is board certified in Medical-Surgical Nursing from the ANCC. She has over 15 years of direct patient care experience working within the US Army, trauma, long-term care, medical-surgical, and telemetry. As a Clinical Specialist, she works to ensure customers are aware of and compliant with the most current federal, state, and tribal regulations specific to medical and pharmaceutical waste.

published in Medical Waste