Common Items Found In Medical Waste Containers That Are NOT Medical Waste

Soiled linens. Non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste. Are they really considered medical waste?

The process of segregating wastes into the right categories can greatly reduce the volume of regulated medical waste. You wouldn’t put paper trash into red bag waste, nor would you put sharps in a trash receptacle.  In these situations, you’re either paying for unnecessary services or violating OSHA regulations, thereby costing more in fines and penalties.  While putting non-medical waste in medical waste containers isn’t a violation, it’s inefficient and a waste of services.  Despite proper planning, some items still find their way into medical waste containers, whether it’s a sharps container or red bag, that don’t belong there at all.

Non-hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

Non-hazardous/non-Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) drugs, while “non-hazardous,” can still pose a threat to our waterways and landfills.  This is why this class of drugs must be disposed of properly, but not necessarily in medical waste containers.  OTC medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and combination cold medications, contraceptives, and all classes of antibiotics are non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste, and often find their way into red bag waste when it is not at all required.  This also includes empty bottles of non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste.

Soiled Linens

There is widespread confusion over Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations on the proper handling of healthcare linen contaminated by blood or bodily fluids.  This confusion has caused many healthcare facilities to develop overly cautious policies and train staff to dispose of contaminated linen as red bag waste. OSHA regulations specify that any linen saturated with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) should be placed in impermeable bags.  A facility’s laundry provider then picks up the bagged contaminated linen, washes the linen, and delivers clean linen back for additional use.

Saline Bags

While saline, or IV drip bags are used in healthcare facilities, the actual bags do not go into medical waste containers. The needle and tubing are instruments that have come in contact with blood and blood products, which under OSHA are considered infectious waste.  The needle will go into an approved sharps container with the tubing placed in red bag waste.  The actual saline bag, however, is not considered infectious waste. There is only one caveat, and that is if the IV bags have been contaminated with chemotherapeutic agents.

Feminine Hygiene Products

While feminine hygiene products are not considered medical waste, it begs the question: when they are handled by another person, like personnel emptying the bathroom trash, does OSHA consider this medical waste?  Because sanitary napkins and tampons are designed to absorb blood, they aren’t considered a risk.  Likewise, OSHA also states that bandages which are not saturated to the point of releasing blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) if compressed is not considered biohazardous waste.  This is the same for feminine hygiene products.  Therefore, they do not normally meet the criteria for medical waste as defined by OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen standard.

While some medical waste disposal rules can be confusing, improper use of medical waste containers or improper disposal of biohazardous waste can either result in fines or requiring medical waste disposal services when it is not necessary. Simple mistakes can lead to violations of local and state laws, which can result in costly fines, or just cost you more money for  unnecessary services.

Confused about what does (and does not) go into medical waste containers? Red Bags can help you navigate medical waste classifications so you only pay for what you need, and most importantly, avoid hefty fines for non-compliance.

Want to learn more? Follow Red Bags’ blog to be up to date on the latest happenings in the medical waste industry.

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