The medical waste community is recognizing a very significant anniversary in the history of waste disposal: the 30th anniversary of the Medical Waste Tracking Act.

Medical waste disposal companies must comply with state laws. Unlike other industries, medical waste is not federally regulated. Medical waste disposal was regulated by the EPA from the inception of the Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) of 1988.

At that time, states took over regulated medical waste disposal. Some federal agencies do have regulations for dealing with medical waste, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additional agencies may also be involved with regulated medical waste disposal. However, in most cases, the states regulate medical waste disposal. But the MWTA is an important part of medical waste history. 

The Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) of 1988, is a “United States federal law concerning the illegal dumping of body tissues, blood wastes and other contaminated biological materials.”

It seems rather surprising that it took until the late 1980s to have mandated laws for such a community and environmental health issue, but it was a step that further advanced the Solid Waste Disposal Act.

The MWTA established standards for segregation, packaging, labeling and marking, and storage of the medical waste, as well as record keeping requirements and the institution of penalties for non-compliance.  The MWTA called upon the EPA to examine various treatment technologies that we use today, such as incinerators and autoclaves, microwave units, and various chemical systems to reduce infectious and hazardous waste. 

As we look back on the last 30 years, it’s clear that the MWTA has given us a lot of necessary requirements for public health protection. 

While medical waste disposal is primarily regulated at the state level, federal laws have dictated the safety and efficacy of how each state implements waste removal, disposal, and treatment.

For centuries, we have had to deal with the problem of what to do with the solid waste we generate. At present, the law is a reminder of the affects that poor waste management can have on the environment. As technology, science, and public health has evolved, so, too has the knowledge of proper disposal needs.

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