California regulations are based on the idea that waste properly packaged and labeled at the point of generation reduces the amount of waste that needs to be handled by special means. Compliance with OSHA and California regulations can be achieved by simply re-evaluating what waste goes where at the point of generation.
Compared to ordinary waste, medical waste disposal is more expensive, offers fewer opportunities for recycling, and creates more pollution and other environmental impact. Successful medical offices reduce their environmental impact, save money by avoiding needless disposal costs, and ensure they protect their communities, patients, and staff from infection.
Subscribe to Patient Safety Advocate
Patient Safety Advocate is a free bi-monthly newsletter created by CAP’s risk management and patient safety experts, specifically for the independent medical practice.
Here are some tips and best practices to help you find the right balance between proper infection control and waste minimization:
- Training all employees thoroughly in proper waste identification and segregation is the single most effective thing you can do to minimize your facility’s waste streams.
- Ensure all employees know what is and is not regulated medical waste. For example, remember that disposable products such as paper towels, swabs, gauze, and gloves that have some blood on them are not medical waste unless squeezing the item would release liquid blood, or the item is so caked with dried blood that some flakes could easily fall off. Also, urine, feces, saliva, nasal secretion, sweat, tears, and vomit are typically not medical waste unless they contain fluid blood or are suspected of being infectious.
- Medical waste identification should be part of all employees’ initial training and updated at least every year. Make it easy for everyone to know what should and should not be put in a specific container by properly labeling and color coding all containers. It’s also a good idea to place a small poster on or above each container that identifies what may be placed in that container.
Here are some common mistakes to avoid and some best practices to implement:
- Do not place a waste container without a lid right under a sharps container. It is too easy for a needle or other sharp to fall into the waste container below.
- Provide a large or regular trash container near all bio containers. This will make it easier for staff to dispose of regular trash and bio waste in the proper containers.
- Make sure there are ordinary unregulated waste containers and recycling bins near every medical waste container so workers and patients are not tempted to use the medical waste containers simply because an ordinary waste container is too far away. Also, make sure all medical waste containers are covered with lids so no one is tempted to casually throw in ordinary waste.
- Empty vials of non-hazardous pharmaceuticals can be disposed of as regular trash or even as recycled glass depending on your municipality. Empty vials that no longer contain pharmaceuticals do not have to be handled as pharmaceutical waste. Empty vials are not sharps if they are not broken. Don’t fill up your sharps containers with empty glass bottles.
- Empty IV bags are not medical waste and can be recycled with other plastics unless they have been contaminated with chemotherapeutic agents. Be sure to black out any patient information that may be on the IV bag label. IV bags that contain only saline or electrolyte solution are not hazardous or pharmaceutical waste. The fluids can be disposed of down the drain, and the IV bag can be placed in regular or recycled waste containers.
Finally, give a specific person the job of occasionally spot checking waste containers to make sure they are not being filled with the wrong types of waste.
Serving the Southern California medical community since 1967, EXR is a locally owned and operated medical waste management company. For more information on proper medical waste disposal, call Pat Crellin toll free at 888-858-1629.
If you have questions about this article, please contact us. This information should not be considered legal advice applicable to a specific situation. Legal guidance for individual matters should be obtained from a retained attorney.