Transporting Regulated Medical Wastes for Disposal

Last updated on March 18, 2022

This article is an update of the original published in 2017. Regulations change frequently. That’s why Sharps Compliance monitors updates and communicates any changes to its customers.

Did you know that there are different methods of transporting regulated medical wastes (RMW) for disposal: mailback programs and pickup services? For some customers, mailback is the more practical and economical option; for others, pickup service makes more sense. Several factors go into determining which option is the best.

This article will discuss the most common factors that help you determine which type of regulated medical waste transportation is best.

Regulatory Considerations

Volume and frequency of RMW generation often dictate mailback versus pickup servicing. But generators need to understand the state and federal regulations that drive those services.

Regulations define the following:

  • Type of wastes that can be transported via USPS mail
  • What category of generator may utilize mailback systems: small versus large quantity generators, with different states defining each category based on different standards of maximum weight of RMW generated per month
  • How wastes must be packaged and labeled
  • Amount of time waste can be stored before it must be removed from the premises      

United States Postal Service (USPS)

The USPS regulates what can and can’t be sent through the mail and sets the packaging specifications.

For example, USPS doesn’t allow some types of regulated medical waste – body parts, liquid wastes, or Category A infectious wastes. If your RMW falls into one of these categories, or if it isn’t packaged, marked, labeled, and documented per USPS regulations, it can’t be sent via the mail.

RMW waste generators who want to use mailback systems for transport and disposal must understand and comply with USPS regulations as well as those established by their state.

Department of Transportation (DOT)

The DOT regulates the transport of regulated medical wastes via highways, waterways, and air travel.

If you use a pickup service for your waste disposal, you must follow DOT and state regulations for waste classification and packaging. In addition, DOT requires specific training for all employees involved in packaging regulated wastes for transport and those responsible for filling out the required shipping papers.

Individual States

Even though USPS and DOT are federal regulatory agencies that reach across state lines, state-specific regulations governing RMW transportation vary widely. For example:

  • A state may limit what is transported via USPS.
  • Some states may limit the amount of regulated waste shipped through the mail, limiting mailback use to small quantity generators.
  • States may limit the time a generator can store regulated wastes prior to transport. In states with tight storage time-frames, generators should assess the volumes they generate in those specified frequencies to determine whether mailback or pickup is more economical.

Type and Volume of Waste Generated

Another factor used to determine mailback versus pickup is the type and volume of waste generated. If your facility generates a large volume of RMW or a waste type that can’t be mailed (like pathological wastes or large volumes of liquid waste), you need to use a pickup service.

However, if you generate smaller volumes of RMW – like pharmaceuticals or universal wastes – a mailback system may be your best choice. Fortunately, no regulations require you to utilize a single transport option for all waste streams! So, when you consider the type and amount of waste generated and the associated cost of transportation and disposal, you may find that a blended program of both pickup service and mailback systems best fits your needs.

Pickup Service Contracts

Exclusive contracts between a pickup service and your county or state can be a determining factor. It is not very common, but if your county or state has such a contract, you can still utilize a mailback service, which may reduce costs and provide a much more convenient option for your facility.

Cost of Transport

The cost of transporting your regulated wastes is a crucial factor in the mailback versus pickup decision. The three aspects most commonly related to the cost of transportation are the amount of waste generated and the location of and accessibility to your facility or facilities. Often, it simply comes down to your transport preference.

Amount of Waste Generated

Mailback transport is typically the most cost-effective option for small quantity generators. However, at some point, which is different for every generator, you may start to produce more waste. That increase often tips the scale to pickup being more cost-effective.

Location of Facility

The location of and accessibility to your facility is another aspect in determining the cost of transportation. If your facility is remote, a pickup service may be unavailable to you or not cost-effective. A mailback system, in this case, is always available.

Transport Preference

Some facilities prefer one type of transport over another regardless of the associated cost. Working with a company that has experience with both types, who can provide both mailback and pickup makes this preference a reality.

Sharps Compliance RMW Transportation Solutions

As you can see, there are many determining factors to consider when deciding between a mailback disposal system and a pickup service for transporting regulated medical wastes. We will work with you to create a custom solution that fits your budget and medical waste disposal needs.

  • USPS-compliant Mailbacks: Our Sharps Recovery Systems come in sizes ranging from 1-quart to 2-gallons. The comprehensive prepaid mailback systems include puncture-proof containers for used sharps and small amounts of medical waste, prepaid return mailing system, return transportation, treatment, and proof of treatment.
  • DOT-compliant Shipbacks: Our TakeAway Recovery Systems are appropriate for larger quantities of used health care products. Individual container sizes range from 1-quart to 30-gallons. These systems are ideal for small quantity generators needing a cost-effective treatment solution. Pricing is all-inclusive.
  • Pickup Services: We operate medical waste pickup services nationwide. Contact us to request a quote for medical waste pickup services.
  • Hybrid Solutions: We can work with you to create a hybrid RMW disposal solution that seamlessly blends mailback and pickup solutions customized to your individual needs. There are never any hidden fees or surprise charges.

We also provide DOT training and additional state and federal resources to help our customers stay compliant whether they are using mailback or pickup. We can help you navigate all the determining factors to arrive at the most cost-effective disposal options for your facility.

Contact us at 800.772.5657 for more information, or visit our customer center for more information or customer support.

Wanda Voigt holds a BA in Nursing from Texas Woman’s University and a BBA in Business Management from Texas A&M University. In Fall 2021, Wanda will begin her Master Jurisprudence in Health Law and Policy at Texas A&M University. Wanda has over 20 years of clinical practice in both hospital and private practice practicing in various specialties.

As the Director of Regulatory Compliance, Wanda assists Sharps’ customers in evaluating current federal and state-specific medical and pharmaceutical waste regulations, implementing compliant regulated medical and pharmaceutical waste management programs and processes, and developing training programs for both internal and external customers.

published in Medical Waste