Medical Waste at Veterinarians' Offices


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 biological materials and stuff contaminated with animal fluids which must be classified as “infectious waste” and stored on site, and transported off-site for treatment, separately.

We recommend vet practices establish these waste categories

Bio (which includes what waste professionals call “infectious” and “pathological” waste)

Sharps

General

Radioactive (if needed)

Hazardous

Recyclables (optional)

Bio

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 (MSW) 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.

Deceased animals

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 they enter 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, 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 vets 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. While 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.

Sharps

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). Use special sharps containers. You can get these from medical supply companies.

Radioactive waste at vet offices

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.

Hazardous 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.

General, non-hazardous waste

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. 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 any other commercial venture. Just BE SURE TO NOT MIX WASTE STREAMS.

Recyclables

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.

Safety and MSDSs

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.