For most hospitals, waste management is a growing concern—particularly when it comes to biomedical waste. Although it makes up only a small percentage of all waste created in healthcare facilities (usually between 10% and 15%), biomedical waste needs to be handled and disposed of carefully. On top of posing a risk to human health and the environment, there is also the aesthetic and professional component to its proper handling and disposal.
What exactly is biomedical waste?
Biomedical waste can be a number of things:
- Human anatomical waste: Human tissues, organs and other body parts such as the placenta, uterus or gallbladder. It does not include teeth, hair and nails.
- Non-human anatomical waste: Sharp objects that can puncture or cut the skin (needles, syringes, blades, etc), objects that have come in contact with blood or with a biological liquid or tissue, or with a blood container or material that has been saturated with blood.
- Live vaccines, biological tissue, cell cultures and microbial cultures that have been used in a laboratory.
Biomedical waste is produced by healthcare and research facilities, medical and veterinary teaching facilities, clinical research and testing laboratories, and facilities that produce or test vaccines.
Handling biomedical waste carries a risk of transmitting certain diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and various bacterial or viral infections. This is just one of the many reasons why it is essential to establish and follow good waste management practices. For example, properly identified containers that are specifically designed for the type of waste being disposed of should be used at all times and kept in close proximity to where that particular type of waste is produced.
Keep in mind that biomedical waste bags and containers for sharps (sharp and pointy items) are always red or yellow. Red is for waste that must be incinerated (mainly cytotoxic and anatomical waste), and yellow is for items that will be sent to steam sterilization (particularly items contaminated with blood).
Tips for disposing of biomedical waste
- Every facility should have a clear and accurate list of items that fall under the category of biomedical waste. This will make it easy for staff to identify waste and properly dispose of it in the appropriate red or yellow bag or container. Most facilities create a booklet or poster for this purpose.
- Note that urine, feces and diapers are not biomedical waste, unless they are visibly contaminated with blood, in which case they must be handled with care. Otherwise, they can be disposed of with regular waste.