Sharps Medical Waste Disposal: What Should and Shouldn’t Be Making It Into The Red Bag

Medical waste disposal is a highly regulated process, and for good reason. The goal is to keep patients, staff, and the public at-large as safe from bio-hazardous waste as possible. Irresponsibly handling medical waste can lead to infection, illness, and death. On top of that, it could impact the environment as well. With so much regulation, it can get a bit confusing, but it can also be hard to enforce certain things. For instance, waste needs to be segregated based on what type of waste it is. With so many people using medical facilities, such as doctors, nurses, patients, and their families, it can be hard to keep track of where bio-hazardous waste is going. Sharps medical waste disposal depends on proper segregation. Part of that segregation is using red biohazard bags, which often get filled with regular trash. Here’s a guide to what should and shouldn’t be going into those bags.


What Shouldn’t Be Going In

The Medical Waste Tracking Act was enacted more than thirty years ago, but trash still ends up in red bags. It used to be that recycling material like discarded cans and pizza boxes ended up in there, but now it’s things such as gauze, medication vials, tray covers, packaging, tubing, and other waste from a medical facility that doesn’t qualify as bio-hazardous waste. The common excuses run the gamut from blaming the patients to improper medical waste disposal procedures. Improper procedures include not having enough regular trash cans for people to use, and no enforcement of how the red bags should be used. Only regulated medical waste should be discarded in those bags.


Regulated Medical Waste

Regulated medical waste is any waste that has potentially infectious substances or blood that can harm the public through infection. If the amount of infectious material is too little to spread disease, then it  does not qualify as regulated medical waste. This has been the standard for many years, and the standard that’s taught in training classes around the country, but it is often forgotten or ignored, unfortunately. Proper sharps medical waste disposal depends on this segregation if needles are still attached. This also includes gauze covered in blood, things that have dried and caked blood, blood tubes, and other items that may contain blood.


Common Misconceptions

There are a few common misconceptions when it comes to red bags. For one, urine and feces do not qualify, as they do not contain enough pathogens, and should not be disposed of in the red bags. Regulated medical waste is also not just anything that has blood on it. It consists of things that have enough blood to spread disease. A small amount of absorbed blood can be disposed of in regular trash containers. It’s not even necessarily about the actual amount of blood. It’s about the potential for harm. A dripping cotton ball would be considered hazardous, but that same amount of blood absorbed into a bed sheet would not.

Proper sharps disposal and other medical waste disposal requires segregation. Every piece of waste, whether it’s a blood-soaked cotton ball or an empty bag of chips, should be placed in the proper trash receptacle. That means that the red medical waste bags should only be used for regulated medical waste. Keep your facility compliant by following this guide.