Medical Waste and Sharps Disposal FAQs
We realize that the subject of regulated medical waste sometimes can be complicated and confusing, and we’re here to answer any questions you may have.
The following are some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) that we’re asked:
- What is “medical waste” or “potentially infectious” material?
- Which body fluids are considered infectious?
- What is a biohazard?
- What goes in the red bag?
- How do I package my red bag medical waste?
- What goes in the sharps disposal container?
- How do I package my sharps waste?
- Where do I find my…?
What is “medical waste” or “potentially infectious” material?
The Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988 broadly defined medical waste as any solid waste that is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals. It excluded hazardous waste and household waste. Specifically, the law stated that medical waste included, but was not limited to, the following:
- Items that are freely dripping liquid or semi-liquid blood or "potentially infectious materials" or could readily release infectious materials if compressed
- Items containing dried blood or "potentially infectious materials" that could release flakes if compressed or otherwise handled
- Human blood and blood products, including serum, plasma, and blood components
- Hemodialysis waste of all items that were in contact with the patient’s blood (tubing, filters, towels, gloves, aprons, lab coats) and any other contaminated disposable equipment)*
- Human or animal isolation wastes (blood, excretion, exudates, secretions, and items contaminated with these) from humans or animals that have been isolated to protect others from communicable diseases*
- Sharps waste
- Surgery or autopsy tissue, organs, or body parts (eg, adenoids, appendix, tonsils, amputated digits, hands, feet, arms or legs), also known as pathological wastes
- Surgical and autopsy wastes (eg, soiled dressings, sponges, drapes, lavage tubes, drainage sets, underpads, and surgical gloves) that were in contact with infectious agents*
- Cultures or stocks of any virus, bacterium or other organism including discarded live attenuated vaccines and the items used to transfer, inoculate or mix cultures
- Tissues, organs, body parts, bedding, carcasses, and body fluids from experimental animals that were exposed to infectious agents
- Teeth in dentistry
- Laboratory wastes that have been in contact with infectious wastes, including gloves, coats and aprons*
- Discarded medical equipment and its components that have been in contact with infectious agents*
- Any other discarded item or waste that an administrator believes poses a threat to human health or the environment
- Potentially infectious body fluids (see next FAQ)
*Administrators may choose NOT to define these as medical waste if they determine that an item does not pose a current or future hazard to human health or the environment when stored, transported, disposed, or improperly managed.
Which body fluids are considered infectious?
- Amniotic fluids
- Blood and its components
- Cerebrospinal and synovial fluid
- Dialysate and dialysis waste
- Pericardial and pleural fluid
- Saliva in dental procedures
- Vaginal secretions
What is a biohazard?
In general, the term “biohazard” describes any biological material (ie, plants, animals, microorganisms, or their byproducts) that may present a potential risk to the health and well-being of humans, animals, or the environment 29 CFR 1910.1030 (g)(1)(i)(A).
What goes in the red bag?
Always check your facility’s policies and procedures and adhere to your specific guidelines. Generally, these DO go into a Stericycle red bag:
- Visibly bloody gloves, plastic tubing, or personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Gauze, bandages or other items saturated with blood
- Securely closed disposable sharps containers
Special handling, marking and local regulations may apply to these:
- Certain pathological waste
- Trace chemotherapy
These DON’T go in the Stericycle red bag:
DON’T discard these in the red bag:
- Compressed gas cylinders (they’re hazardous waste, not biohazards)
- Loose sharps (they go in sharps containers)
- Hazardous and chemical waste
- Radioactive waste
- Fixatives and preservatives
- Biotech or food processing waste that does not contain a potentially infectious agent
- Household waste, food, paper products, and other medical solid waste (unless potentially infectious)
How do I package my red bag medical waste?
Medical waste generators are legally responsible for packaging their waste.
Step 1: Line your container with the red bag prior to use.
Step 2: Tie the bag when the container is full.
Each bag must be hand-tied by gathering and twisting the neck of the bag.
Step 3: Secure the lid on the container.
Make sure all closure and/or locking mechanisms are engaged. Red bags must not be visible once the container is closed.
Step 4: Check the containers markings.
Ensure that federal markings (biohazard symbol, this-side-up-arrows, regulated medical waste, N.O.S., and UN number) are present. Ensure you’re complying with your individual state regulations. If unsure of your state regulations, check with your Stericycle representative: 866.783.7422. Apply the bar code label (where available).
Improperly packaged containers or damaged containers will be denied pickup or returned to the customer.
What Goes in the Sharps Disposal Container?
Sharps include, but aren’t limited to, needles, lancets, syringes, broken glass, scalpels, culture slides, culture dishes, broken capillary tubes, broken rigid plastic, and exposed ends of dental wires. Laboratory slides and cover slips contaminated with infectious agents. Our sharps disposal services has a more complete description of sharps waste.
How do I package my sharps waste?
Step 1: Place sharps in a puncture-resistant container designed for sharps waste.
Do not allow loose sharps in any waste container other than the sharps container.
Step 2: Securely close the container.
Step 3: Place disposable containers in the red bag waste or schedule for pickup.
Reusable (Bio Systems) sharps containers do not go in the red bag.
Where do I find my…?
Most customer resources, such as waste handling training, bloodborne pathogens training, manifests, safety data sheets, and other tools you need to stay compliant are found at your password-protected website account at MyStericycle.com. Log in (at left) or from the home page of the public Stericycle website. If you have any questions about your service level and your access, please reach out to Stericycle customer care. We're here to help you.
By Phone Automation
Please have your customer account and site number ready. Call the number below, and follow the voice prompts to:
- Get your next pick-up date
- Request a change in disposal pickup or cancel a pickup
- Confirm your current balance and last payment
- Request a fax of your invoice or pick-up calendar