What are the different types of medical waste – and why are they important?

Types of Medical Waste Hazardous medical waste that needs to be carefully disposed of by incineration. Items include clinical waste such as used syringes and needles, used swabs, plasters and bandages. Used drug blister packs and ampules. Biomedical waste is potentially infectious.

There are many different types of medical waste, categorised largely by the types of materials uses and the waste disposal methods. In general, in the UK medical waste is separated into two main types: hazardous and non-hazardous. In the US and other parts of the world, there are four major types of medical waste: General, Infectious, Hazardous and Radioactive.

Many of the same types of medical waste have different names that can be used interchangeable, depending on which country you are operating in.

 

medical waste typesWhat is medical waste?

Medical waste is any waste that is generated as a by-product of healthcare work at doctor’s surgeries, dentists, hospitals and laboratories. It includes any material that could come into contact with the body during diagnosis, research, drug administration or any type of treatment.

It’s likely to be infectious, or potentially infectious, and is often contaminated with bodily fluids in some way – but the term can also be used to refer to general waste from any medical practice, as well as specific waste streams typically found in the medical industry.

 

Names and categorisations for the different types of medical waste  

Each country names and categorises their medical waste slightly differently, but often the terms can be used interchangeably. Those in most widespread use include:

Medical waste in the USA:

The EPA – Medical Waste Guidance defines and categories solid medical waste in the following ways.

  1. General WasteThe bulk of most medical waste, mostly typical household and office waste
  2. Infectious WasteAny waste that could cause an infection in humans, like blood, human tissue or anything contaminated with bodily fluids
  3. Hazardous WasteWaste that’s dangerous, but not infectious, like sharps, discarded surgical equipment, and some chemical waste
  4. Radioactive WasteAny waste generated as a result of radioactive treatments, like cancer therapies, and medical equipment that uses nuclear elements.

Healthcare waste in the UK:

The UK government segregates the different types of medical waste into these categories:

  1. Infectious WasteAny waste generated from the treatment of individuals or contaminated with any infectious bodily fluids
  2. Cytotoxic / Cytostatic WasteDrugs and other types of medicine that are cytotoxic and/or cytostatic, or items that come into contact with any toxic or carcinogenic medicine.
  3. Medicinal WasteAll types of medicine, pills and creams that are not cytotoxic and/or cytostatic
  4. Anatomical WasteAll waste from a human or animal, including body parts, blood bags and organs
  5. Offensive WasteAny waste that’s non-infectious, including sanitary and nappy waste.
  6. Domestic or Municipal – All other general, non-clinical waste

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical waste classifications:

The WHO has issued its own guidelines on the different types of medical waste, which include:

  1. Infectious WasteAnything that’s infectious or contaminated
  2. SharpsWaste like needles, scalpels, broken glass and razors
  3. Pathological WasteHuman or animal tissue, body parts, blood and fluids
  4. Pharmaceutical WasteUnused and expired drug or medicines, like creams, pills, antibiotics
  5. Genotoxic WasteCytotoxic drugs and other hazardous toxic waste, that’s carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic.
  6. Radioactive WasteAny waste containing potentially radioactive materials
  7. Chemical WasteLiquid waste, typically from machines, batteries and disinfectants
  8. General/Other WasteAll other, non-hazardous waste.

Understanding the most common types of medical waste

Although there are several ways to categorise and name medical waste, the different medical waste streams are all fairly similar. Once you understand the types of waste within each, you can ensure each type is disposed of correctly.

For example:

  • All needles, scalpels, razor blades and any other sharp objects are generally referred to as Sharps. How they have been used will determine which type of medical waste they are categorised as – generally infectious, or
  • Any body parts, human tissue or bodily fluid – as well as swabs and cultures – is typically referred to as anatomical or This is generally known as biohazard waste.
  • The vast majority of medicines can be categorised into general pharmaceutical or medical waste – unless they are cytotoxic or cytostatic.
  • Gloves, aprons, gowns, and used plastic packaging (like empty syringes and IVs), bandages and gauzes will be hazardous/offensive waste – if the patient isn’t infected with any disease (also known as trace-chemotherapeutic waste), or it will be designated infectious waste if there is a risk of contamination.
Medical Waste Separation

Medical or clinical sharps yellow waste container

Separating medical waste streams for safe disposal

It is vital to understand the different types of medical waste and separate them accordingly, in order to protect healthcare workers and other patients, and to dispose of the waste safely and effectively.

Different types of medical waste require different disposal techniques to ensure that any infectious materials cannot contaminate or spread to other areas.

Some general medical waste can be disposed of in landfill. Some requires specialist treatment such as a medical incinerator.

The vast majority of medical waste must be incinerated to ensure that all traces of infections or pathogens are completely destroyed.

 

Our extensive range of medical incinerators can safely destroy any waste from types 1 to 4, helping you effectively stay on top of your medical waste disposal on site.

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