March 16, 2020

Getting Clarity about Medical Waste

Organizations often have questions about what constitutes as medical waste. Luckily, there are some easy steps you can take to find the most precise and accurate definitions for your state.

The first step in starting a comprehensive medical waste management program is defining what items in your healthcare facility are considered medical waste. Without a clear definition, your organization may not include the appropriate materials in the regulated waste stream and could inadvertently be putting patient and employee safety at risk, not to mention the potential for noncompliance.
Unfortunately, there is not currently a universal definition for medical waste and what specifically it entails, meaning it’s up to each individual state to precisely define medical waste in their regulations and for organizations to determine what items are classified as such in view of those regulations, and in turn, how to properly and compliantly dispose of the waste. For example, although many organizations look to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) definition found in the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, this description is somewhat limited. In fact, most states go into a greater level of detail with their medical waste regulations and requirements, offering more precise definitions surrounding specific characteristics of items or materials that may fall within this category. For example, many states have much more exacting definitions that include chemotherapeutic waste and how to safely manage cultures and stocks. Because of the increased specificity of the state requirements, it’s important to first consult your state regulations when determining what your facility should view as medical waste. This will ensure more reliable and consistent compliance.
Looking to State-Specific Definitions
The problem with this approach is that finding your state’s medical waste requirements can be challenging, as they are sometimes spread across multiple agencies. Fortunately, Stericycle has taken most of the aggravation out of the search process, doing much of the legwork for you. For a summary of your state’s definition and requirements: visit, click on ‘Find Your Location’ at the top of the page, enter your zip code, select the location closest to you (click on ‘View Page’) and then scroll down to the state-specific requirements. This will allow you to begin planning for medical waste disposal, with better guidance as to what items fall into this category.
Note that Stericycle regularly updates the information on the individual state requirements to make sure they remain current. That said, facilities that want further detail should access the websites for the relevant agencies within their state that govern medical waste disposal. Stericycle’s summaries list many of these agencies, pointing you in the right direction.
Establishing a robust and accurate understanding of what constitutes medical waste is a foundational element in a comprehensive compliance program. To learn more about how Stericycle can support your organization to maintain continuous compliance now and into the future, call 855-602-6279.

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