Veterinary offices are similar to doctors' offices in the nature of medical waste they produce. As in other healthcare facilities, most of the waste from the office is non-hazardous and can be disposed of as regular office trash (municipal solid waste). But there are also biomass and materials contaminated with animal fluids which must be classified as infectious waste and stored on site, and separately transported off-site for treatment.
We recommend vet practices establish these waste categories
Use red bags or plastic containers for materials from animals. The containers should be marked with the biohazardous waste symbol on it. This includes wipes and towels contaminated with fluids from animals. What in human care would be called “pathological waste” (e.g. recognizable body parts) should also go in this waste stream.
Manure from animals that appear to be healthy can legally be put in the trash (municipal solid waste) or even flushed down the toilet. But to protect their public image and to avoid questions from regulators in the case of an incident, most vet offices probably want to put litter box waste and feces in the infectious waste containers.
It is not economical for vets to treat this waste on site. Pay a waste management company to take it away for you. Make sure you check that the waste management company is legitimate and can properly treat the waste and will dispose of it according to laws and regulations.
One big difference between doctors' offices and veterinarians is that vet offices more often have dead bodies. If someone dies at a doctor's office, the coroner takes them away and the body enters the death care system of mortuaries. But animals that die are handled differently by society. There is no legal requirement for processing of their bodies and no death certificates.
Vets often euthanize pets at the office, or the animals die of natural causes or injuries.
The emotional attachment humans have to their pets makes animal bodies different from other medical waste. Handle these bodies with respect and cover them. If necessary, you can put them in the infectious waste containers and have your contractor haul it away, but you probably want to handle the bodies more like deceased humans are treated.
Vet offices often have connections to pet cemeteries and facilities that dispose of bodies. (In the old days it was a common joke that dead horses were sent to glue factories where their rendered bodies would yield collagen that could be turned into glue.)
On farms, where the humans don’t have the emotional attachment to the animals, disposing of animals is more efficient and sometimes yields materials that can be sold or used on the farm.
Vets and vet technicians use a lot of equipment that becomes "sharps" waste. This includes needles and syringes as well as razor blades, scalpels, and glass objects (intact and broken). Put these in special sharps containers. You can get these from medical supply companies.
Only some veterinary practices deal with radioactive materials. Note that x-ray equipment does not normally generate radioactive waste. But some vets use brachytherapy on cats or dogs, and the radioactive pellets used in that process pose special concern. After the pellets are removed, they are low-level radioactive waste and must be disposed of as such. Don’t get scared by the prospect of radioactive (or “rad”) waste. It is manageable and if you ask your waste disposal company about it they will probably know what to do. And don’t call it nuclear waste. Only amateurs call it that. Pros say radioactive waste.
Vet offices typically produce little hazardous waste, as defined under RCRA. And if they do, they can get classified as small generators. If you can possibly avoid making RCRA hazardous waste, you probably should do so. It is a headache. Keep any hazardous waste separate from other types of waste and tell your waste disposal company about it.
Prescription drugs are classified by Schedule https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling and considered controlled substances in the US. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has jurisdiction and an interest in preventing the criminal spread of these medicines; businesses, including veterinary practices, need to be responsible. Some waste medicines should be flushed down the toilet. To prevent dumpster diving and people trying to recover even degraded medicines from the trash, the government recommends flushing certain medicines down the toilet. See the FDA's list at: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know/drug-disposal-flush-potentially-dangerous-medicine#FlushList
These are for the most part opioid medicines. Also on the list are Valium (Diazepam), Ritalin (Methylphenidate), and Sodium Oxybate (salt of GHB).
Waste professionals call this municipal solid waste (MSW). This is the type of waste created at any office - paper, food, and plastic mostly. You can collect it in wastepaper baskets or general waste cans. We recommend black containers. Make sure to keep problem waste out of this stream - do not put biological material, radioactive materials, or hazardous waste in these cans. If you mix different types of waste together, you need to handle and dispose of the combination as the more risky form of waste. Because treatment and disposal of infectious, radioactive, or hazardous waste is substantially more expensive than having MSW hauled off, you want to put as much as legally and ethically possible into the MSW stream. If you have a janitorial service, make sure they know to collect only general non-hazardous waste - not the regulated waste. Many vet offices are in larger office parks that have centralized MSW collection - either vet office personnel must put the waste in the dumpster or a janitor service will do so.
There is nothing special about MSW waste handling for vet offices - it’s the same as for any other commercial venture.
Recyclables are no different at vet offices from any other office. Just be very sure to keep biological material out of the recycle bins and containers. Materials like paper and beverage containers can be recycled. Check what your local government has and follow their rules. Many municipalities will haul away recyclables at no cost.
Everyone at the veterinarian office, even the receptionist, should have basic training in medical waste management. Your people need to know your categories, where they can sort waste products into, and what kind of protection they need to employ when they handle hazardous materials. OSHA regulations apply to vet offices, and technicians need to be trained and use PPE.
Trivia: According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 38.4 percent of US housholds have pet dogs, and 25.4 percent have cats, and 2.8 percent have birds. Dog households make 2.4 visits to the vet every year for canine care, while cat households make 1.3 visits per year.