Not all wastes are created equal. Know the differences between medical, hazardous, and pharmaceutical wastes.
The U.S. is responsible for producing a hopping 220 million tons of waste a year. Because of this, both the government and environmental associations have developed numerous methods of dealing with the problem through waste management. Waste management is a rather complex issue that encompasses several industries, and the type of waste determines how and when it should be disposed of, and in what manner. Here are the key differences.
Hazardous waste is a rather broad category, but is defined as any type of waste that poses either a substantial or potential threat to public health and the environment. This includes explosive waste, flammable liquids and solids, waste that is poisonous and toxic, and of course, waste that is infectious.
Once a material is deemed no longer useful and is ready for disposal, it is necessary to consider whether it can be safely and legally put in a dumpster for landfilling, poured down the drain, or set aside as a hazardous waste for special disposal. You should always refer to local and federal laws to see how to dispose of hazardous waste.
Technically speaking, medical waste is hazardous waste. There are many terms used to identify medical waste, including infectious waste, biological waste, medical waste, hospital waste, medical hazardous waste, microbiological waste, pathological waste, and red bag waste. Medical waste comes in several forms, including solid and liquid. Solid waste includes culture media, personal protective equipment that has been contaminated, and other materials, like sharps, pipette tips, glassware and more. Liquid waste includes blood, blood products, and bodily fluids. The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate biohazardous waste management under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the primary authority for regulating workplace standards and employee health and safety.
Like medical waste, pharmaceutical waste can also be considered hazardous waste. Unused pharmaceuticals are a hazard for abuse and are a threat to the environment if disposed of improperly. Reliable and concrete statistics are hard to come by, but it’s a safe assumption that we, as consumers, are responsible for a hefty percentage of the pharmaceutical and personal care products that wind up in lakes, rivers, and streams. In a typical U.S. household, the medicine cabinet is full of unused and expired drugs, only a fraction of which get disposed of appropriately.
While the FDA has and still recommends flushing certain medications, the best course of action is to research a take-back program. Law enforcement, public health, and environmental professionals feel that these programs are the safest and most responsible way to dispose of unwanted and expired medicines to protect your family and to protect our waters.
Knowing and understanding the different types of waste will help mitigate environmental risks as well as keep you in compliance. Don’t takes guesses about the waste you produce. Know where to find the resources and technical assistance to help health care facilities comply with the law and protect the environment.
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