Knowing the difference between personal waste and regulated medical waste.
You may not think twice about what you throw in the trash at home, but personal solid waste is vastly different than regulated medical waste. The key difference? Regulated medical waste (RMW) is any waste that contains or has been exposed to blood or other potentially infectious materials, whereas municipal solid waste, commonly known as trash or garbage, includes all everyday thrown away household items.
RWM is a pretty broad category that covers many different types of waste and there are specific methods to deal with each kind. In the medical waste field, there is infectious waste, hazardous waste, and radioactive waste, just to name a few.
In terms of personal solid waste, the average American produces 4.40 pounds of solid garbage or recyclables per day, according to the EPA. This includes items such as food wrappers, mail papers, store receipts, food scraps, and other paper goods. Many municipalities offer recycling programs for materials such as plastics, metals, paper, and boxes, which can greatly reduce the amount of trash that ends up in our landfills.
Even some personal solid waste can fall under the regulated medical waste category just by its definition; RMW is waste that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids, or other potentially infectious materials. So why is that used bandage for a small cut not regulated in the same way as a blood-soaked bandage from the hospital?
Let’s look a little closer.
Infectious waste is probably the broadest category of RMW. This type of waste includes:
- Waste cultures
- Discarded vaccines
Blood waste, including
- Blood vials
- Bandages, cloths, solid waste that contains blood
- Sharps, tubing, and other items that are use to collect blood
Human bodily fluids, including
- Cerebrospinal fluid
- Synovial fluid,
- Pleural fluid, peritoneal fluid, pericardial fluid, amniotic fluid, etc.
Infectious waste poses an environmental danger due to its biological risk. It is imperative that large-scale RMW generators rely on a medical waste disposal company that is properly trained and certified to handle and dispose of said waste, not only for safety, but because it’s the law.
At home, while tossing that bandage seems innocuous, technically it’s supposed to be placed in a sealed packaging prior to throwing away in your household trash. This is because it has the potential to cause infection. The same goes for sharps waste at home, too.
While many states recommend that patients dispose of used syringes in sealed plastic containers, there is no mandate for them to do so at home, and the needles, sealed or not, will end up in the regular trash. This is the biggest difference between personal waste and RMW.
There are, however, recommendations for at-home medical waste. The DEP recommends that people put the sharps in a puncture-resistant, hard plastic container. This can come from many common household items, such as an empty laundry detergent bottle with a screw-on cap. When the container is filled, it should be closed tightly and secured with heavy tape, placed in a paper bag and discarded with household trash.
The Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) of 1988 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. Many laws vary on the state level, but the bottom line is that RMW is not the same as personal solid waste, and there are laws in place to properly dispose of it and treat it.
Regulated medical waste is a broad category of infectious waste and can be confusing, especially if you’re dealing with smaller-scale medical waste at home? Unsure of the regulations and laws in place? Contact us to to better understand personal versus regulated medical waste.
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