Questions and Answers

1) What should I do if I have medical waste?

If you are not a regular producer but just have occasional or one-time waste, contact a medical waste disposal company that serves your area. You can find one in the phone book or an internet search or you can ask for referrals at a medical or veterinary clinic.

Don't bother asking the medical or veterinary clinic if you can put your waste in their disposal container. The medical waste company must know the origin and chain of custody of the waste. You can't piggy-back on someone else who has waste.

Don't try to skirt regulations and dump your waste illegally. It's risky and unethical. Don't think you can "play dumb" if caught either. This rarely works

2) If the disposal is just going to be incineration, why can't I do that myself in my autoclave?

Even if you have a laboratory grade autoclave, you probably can't follow the best practices of waste incinerators. In particular, how will you handle the smoke or off-gas? Autoclaves are designed to sterilize equipment that is already clean, not to burn waste.

Having said that, a good deal of infectious waste is deactivated in hospital autoclaves. It can be done, but make sure the waste you put in the autoclave is appropriate for this type of treatment.

3) Does old prescription medication count as medical waste?

It depends on who you are. If you are an operating business - for profit or not-for-profit - then yes, pharmaceutical waste requires special treatment and disposal.

For household use, no. The drugs are potentially harmful to people and animals but they do not typically have live cultures. The disposal of medicines requires some special attention, though. It is usually legal to put it in the household trash (check you local laws to make certain), but responsible disposal calls for a little more attention.

Some communities have Drug Take-Back Days during which they set up collection spots for old medicine. If you put it in your regular trash, mix if with coffee grounds, kitty litter, sawdust, or other repugnant material to make the medicine less appealing for pets, children, and interlopers who may be going through your trash. Put the mixture in a plastic bag and seal before putting everything in the large garbage bag or container.

4) Is dog manure medical waste?

No. It is more like what you normally flush down the toilet. Actually, you could flush dog manure down the toilet, but most municipal waste collection agencies will accept it in normal household trash. This waste contains e. coli and perhaps pathogens, but a limited amount of manure is deemed acceptable in the municipal solid waste stream that goes to a sanitary landfill.

Conclusion: either leave your dog manure on the lawn, in the woods, etc. or put it in your trash. Animal feces from laboratories is usually treated as pathological waste. It may have unusual components, and even if it doesn’t the waste management authorities at these facilities usually ask researchers to put manure in pathological waste containers.

5) Could stored medical waste produce an outbreak of disease?

Yes, it could It’s unlikely that most waste, even infectious waste, would cause disease in humans if leaked. However, the possibility exists which is why care must be taken in management, storage, and treatment of waste.

6) Why can’t I get a firm definition of what is considered medical waste?

Too many definitions. Too many jurisdictions. The federal code of regulations 9 CFR 173.134 states "Regulated medical waste or clinical waste or (bio) medical waste means a waste or reusable material derived from the medical treatment of an animal or human, which includes diagnosis and immunization, or from biomedical research, which includes the production and testing of biological products."

7) Does the waste smell?

It could. However, if you store it properly the odor shold not be noticable. There are odor control measures for areas that store medical waste.

8) When materials are autoclaved, how do te operators know if sterilization has been achieved?

A common technique in is the use of special indicator tape. This is literally a piece of adhesive tape about the size of a band aid. You can stick it to one of the waste containers or to the interior wall of the autoclave. The tape changes color to indicate a set temperature has been achieved. This is a low-tech double-check on autoclave operation. You already know the internal temperature from the built-in thermometer, but the tape provides confirmation.

Note that autoclave tape is not the same as spore indicator test strips, which more directly test for whether microorganisms could survive the process.

8) Should I use germicides to clean up after medical waste?

There are a million ways to disinfect, Many commercial chemicals and concoctions. Some are sold as explicitly commercial disinfectants. Are these different from the ones ordinary people use at home? Not necessarily.

Some products are advertised as germicides. This word means a substance that kills germs (pathogenic microorganisms) but it not totally defined. Every cleaning agent, even soapy water is a little germicidal.

Note that autoclave tape is not the same as spore indicator test strips, which more directly test for whether microorganisms could survive the process.

9) I just want this headache to go away. Can I just pay somebody to take care of it?

Probably. If you live in the US and not in a remote rural area, there is probably a medical waste services company near you. They will take it away for you and treat or dispose of it. They might charge a lot of money for doing that. You might want to consider your production of waste, whether you can avoid making the waste or reuse it, and options you have for storing and getting rid of it.

10) Can’t I just put in the regular garbage? If caught. I’ll say I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know I had to keep pathological waste separate.

No, you’ll still get punished. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. If you work at a facility that produces medical waste, you are going to be held to account if the waste is improperly disposed of. That’s true if you own the business, and it is also true if you are just an employee.

11) Isn’t medical waste pretty much the same as what I flush down the toilet?


12)I can’t micro-manage everything in this big place. I can’t stop it if one of our people goes rogue and releases materials or acts irresponsibly.

That’s true for so many things in organizations. This is why you need a training program and you need to make sure employees know your collection program and their responsibilities.

Myths abut medical waste.



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