Proper medical waste management, including segregating medical waste and using proper containers, is vital for creating a safe care environment.
It’s important that waste generators correctly identify the waste generated and properly segregate it, so that it is managed in line with applicable regulatory requirements. Medical waste is regulated at the federal, state, and local levels, which can contribute to confusion among healthcare providers. In some cases, healthcare workers may have to quickly decide where to put waste. If they don’t fully understand the regulations and their facility’s policies, they can make a mistake that may not only be costly to the organization but may also create safety risks for the facility and its vendors.
Healthcare facilities can properly manage their waste in various ways, but a key aspect to have in place is a waste management plan outlining how a business will segregate and manage its various waste types. The benefits of this program include:
- Personnel Safety: Medical waste segregation into appropriate containers is crucial for helping to promote safe work environments for frontline healthcare workers, as it helps reduce the risk of injury or exposure to bloodborne pathogens.
- Regulatory Compliance: Applicable state or local laws often require medical waste segregation – both segregating medical waste from other non-infectious waste and segregating certain types of medical waste (like pathological waste or sharps waste) from each other. Establishing and training staff on a medical waste segregation program can help healthcare organizations avoid enforcement or other legal action. Waste segregation can be challenging, but partnering with a knowledgeable waste management provider can help you establish an appropriate process.
- Comply with Disposal Vendor’s Waste Acceptance Policies: Waste Acceptance Policies (WAPs) are a waste vendor’s requirements outlining what it will and will not accept, and under what conditions. Healthcare facilities need to ensure that WAPs from all of their waste vendors are shared with those within the organization that are responsible for waste management.
- Required per 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), § 60.55c Waste management plan: Any healthcare facility that uses (on-site or via a vendor) a hospital, medical, and infectious waste incinerator (HMIWI) must have a waste management plan in place.
There are certain components that must be included in a waste management plan for healthcare waste generators who use HMIWIs as part of their waste management policy. These elements may include (but are not limited to):
- Identifying the feasibility of waste segregation.
- Determining an approach to identify and segregate different waste types.
- Designing unit/department-specific goals.
- Collaborating on approaches to meet overall goals.
- Looking for opportunities to implement reusable, recycled, or recyclable products.
- Reviewing and continuously enhancing existing policies and procedures.
- Measuring the effectiveness of programs vs. initial goals.
- Considering the environmental impacts of treatment options.
- Considering implementing best practices.
- Referring to the American for the Health Care Environment (AE) publication “An Ounce of Prevention: Waste Reduction Strategies for Health Care Facilities.”
Benefits of Proper Waste Segregation
Proper waste segregation offers several benefits to healthcare organizations. It allows them to understand the volumes of each waste type, aiding in waste disposal cost-reduction efforts. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 85% of waste generated by healthcare organizations is general municipal waste, which means that properly segregating the smaller percentage of regulated waste that requires special handling or treatment helps prevent excessive expenses for regulated waste services.
Having proper waste segregation is crucial when dealing with regulated medical waste (RMW). RMW consists of materials saturated with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), such as bandages and dressings as well as used sharp instruments like needles or scalpels. These items should be discarded in designated RMW or sharps waste containers and stored for pickup by a reputable medical waste hauler. Depending on the state, RMW may be referred to as biohazardous waste, biomedical waste, infectious waste, or similar terms.
Implement Staff Training
It’s a necessity for staff members working in areas where RMW is generated to receive training on the proper handling and disposal of contaminated materials. Similarly, training should be provided to staff responsible for preparing waste for pickup. Topics to cover should include which items should be segregated, how to package waste correctly, and the risks associated with improper management of RMW.
Training sessions should be conducted during orientation and as part of annual refresher events. Online modules can be particularly beneficial as they allow staff to access training at their convenience, and completion of the training can be documented. If there have been any policy or procedural changes due to COVID-19, providing refresher training could be beneficial.
Waste segregation can be complicated, and it helps to work with a knowledgeable waste management expert to help you make sure that your organization is consistently following the correct processes. Learn more about how Stericycle can help with your waste segregation and management efforts.