biohazardous waste

Last updated on January 24, 2019

Regulated medical waste (RMW) and biohazardous waste are both terms used to refer to medical waste which has the potential to transmit infectious diseases to humans. Many states define “medical waste” as any type of healthcare-related waste generated from treatment of humans or animals, even if its disposal isn’t regulated. They use the terms “biohazardous waste” or “regulated medical waste” to refer to medical waste that is subject to specific disposal rules and regulations.

Besides using different terms to describe RMW, some state governments also impose specific requirements for regulated medical waste handling and disposal that differ from requirements laid out by federal agencies. It can get confusing in a hurry, so it’s important to understand the different terms and regulations and train employees to handle RMW safely.

Understand Your State Regulations Regarding Biohazardous and Medical Wastes

Aspects of medical waste handling, storage, transportation, and disposal are governed by a number of federal agencies, including Occupational Health & Safety Administration, Food & Drug Administration, USPS DMM, and  the Department of Transportation.

However, since the Medical Waste Tracking Act expired in 1991, individual states assumed primary responsibility for regulating medical waste. As state regulations differ, so do the terms used to define types of medical waste. 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.

Other state-regulated medical waste handling and disposal differences include:

  • Registration requirements for RMW generators. Some states don’t have any registration requirements for facilities that generate RMW, but thirteen states and two major cities do require registration.
  • Storage and transportation regulations. Some states set time limits on how long a generator can store RMW. In New Jersey, it’s one year, but the time limit in Colorado is just 30-90 days, depending on storage temperature.
  • States also differ in how long manifest tracking forms and other documentation must be retained.

Not all medical waste is regulated. States generally define and list the exact types of medical waste they require to be managed as regulated medical waste – even if they refer to it as “infectious medical waste,” “biohazardous medical waste,” or other terms. Failure to comply with regulatory requirements can lead to expensive fines and legal bills – even jail time if it’s determined that the violation was intentional.

Sharps Compliance is an industry leader in healthcare waste management solutions. We can help your facility navigate the applicable laws and regulations, train and certify employees, and safely transport regulated medical waste. Contact us to learn more.


Dana has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in geography and has worked in both the clinical and regulatory compliance settings. Her nursing experience includes working in ER, neuro ICU, hospice, and case management. Her regulatory experience includes conducting environmental compliance reviews for federal grant projects and working as an Environmental Investigator with the TCEQ. Dana joined Sharps Compliance in 2018.

published in Medical Waste