Household Medical Waste


You can dispose of most household medical waste through regular trash pickup. You don’t need to hire a medical waste disposal company. But you need to take common sense care and check your local regulations. Even when the US federal government regulated medical waste under the MWTA trial program, it specified that household waste was not included.

Soiled or bloody clothing, bandages, and equipment

Dispose of old medicines

Sharps

Cleaning your house

You may want or need to use universal precautions and protective equipment. These precautions would be taken by others in the house to avoid infection in cases where transmission of serious disease is possible. Regular cleaning of areas where the patient goes can help avoid generation of extra waste. Ask your medical care team; they might recommend specific cleaning procedures. Around-the-house sanitizing can be done with bleach or ammonia solutions. Many commercial preparations build off these components and perhaps add detergents Other industrial disinfectants employ more complex compounds. See page on disinfection.

Sharps

Needles and other sharps are a big concern.

Medical waste in the house poses risk to anyone living in the house as well as visitors and home healthcare workers. If the waste is thrown in the regular trash, the guys who pick up the trash can be at risk, too. It is not uncommon for sanitation workers to get stuck by needles when on the job.

People who take injections on a regular basis should have a sharps container in the house. Throw away syringes with attached needles while the needles are still attached. Do not try to remove or bend the needle.

Needles, needle pens, and lancets should go into a sharps container immediately after use. Keep the sharps containers away from children. Medical supply retailers sell sharps containers. They are typically hard, thick plastic, and are constructed to be difficult to open (child and pet safe). If you are going to produce sharps waste regularly, it is worth buying a container. Households have more latitude than professional facilities. If you generate sharps at home and do not have a sharps container, you can make one from an old plastic detergent bottle, or a metal coffee container. Label it “SHARPS”. Do not use a cardboard carton or a container of thinner plastic, and try not to use a transparent container.

When the sharps container is full, you may be able to put it in the regular trash. Check with your local waste management company. To ensure nobody harms themselves, authorities recommend positioning the sharps container underneath other trash. You might have a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office nearby willing to take sharps waste.

Never put the sharps container in a recycle bin! Many municipalities have separate collection for trash and for recyclables. You want to put the sharps containers (and other household medical waste) in the trash. It is not recyclable. You will produce a huge headache for your recycle company if you put needles and other medical waste in the recycle bin.

Never put sharps in a medication collection drop box. Many drugstores and healthcare facilities offer dropboxes so people can get rid of their unused medicines in a responsible manner. These are great ideas and help with society’s management of this issue. However, the collection and disposal systems connected to those dropboxes are not set up to routinely take in sharps.

Hospitals and nursing homes in New York are required by state law to accept waste sharps from individual households. Some of the large drug store chains started taking in sharps from individuals a few years ago. These included CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid. You might want to call a local store and inquire if it offers this service.

The FDA has this webpage on individual use of sharps. FDA page

Cloth Items

Used gauze, gloves, and bandages safely may have blood, excrement, or other bodily fluids on them. Put them into plastic bags that can be sealed. You can find bags for sale that are specifically intended for medical waste. You might find these convenient, but they are not necessary - any sealable bag will do. When the bag is full or it is trash pickup day, seal the bag (to protect sanitation workers) and put it in the regular garbage pickup barrels.

We recommend using specially made sharps containers for needles, but you don’t need special bags for gloves and bandages. However, dedicating bags just for used gloves and bandages is a good idea for isolating the waste within the house.

Medicines

Prescription medicines should be used only by patients they are prescribed for. If you have leftover medicine you don’t need, do not give it to someone else. Throw it away.

Your local area might have dedicated centers for collecting unused and unwanted medicines. Many retail drug stores also take them. The federal government’s Drug Enforcement Agency has a website that can tell you places (in the US) near you where you can turn in prescription drugs. Click Here.

DON’T FLUSH MEDICINES DOWN THE TOILET. Sewage treatment systems cannot typically break down drugs. The medicines get into the environment where they have detrimental effects. For this reason, most drugs should be put in the regular trash barrel so your local authority picks it up for disposal in a landfill. The drugs are less likely to produce negative impacts on the environment if they are in a landfill.

Some waste management experts recommend mixing unused drugs with coffee grounds or cat litter before throwing them out. This makes the drugs less desirable to humans and animal pests (mixing eliminates the odor of the drugs). Then put the mix into a sealed container before putting it in the trash. You may wish to remove prescription labels before doing so, both for privacy and to prevent human interlopers from using the information to order refills.

The Food and Drug Administration does recommend toiletcertain medicines, mostly addictive opioids.

Walmart in the US recently announced it would give powders away with filled opioid prescriptions - the powders being able to degrade the unused medicine. A product called Rx Destroyer can be used to get rid of old pills.

Conventional cleaning techniques

Are regular cleaning procedures you do around the house adequate to prevent disease transmission? Not necessarily, and that is mostly due to the techniques used more than the disinfectant solutions used. Mops and cleaning cloths do indeed provide low-level disinfection of floors and countertops. But if those items are not cleaned themselves and the liquid in the mop bucket is not changed often enough, cleaning can be inadequate. Many facilities toss mopheads into the washing machine, and that is effective to a large extent. Similarly, washing clothing (e.g. scrubs) used in medical procedures helps limit infection risk, even if it does not make the clothing sterile.

Radioactive waste

Patients receiving radiation therapy such as brachytherapy and iodine treatment for thyroids can produce low-level radioactive waste. Their urine and feces may be considered radioactive. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for cases like this. You might be advised to keep bodily wastes in a container for a while until the radioactive material decays.