>U Mom Knows Best: Medical Waste: Types, Risks of Improper Management and Best Practices for Responsible Handling

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Medical Waste: Types, Risks of Improper Management and Best Practices for Responsible Handling

 Medical waste and its disposal are a rising concern in today’s era. Due to excessive awareness, everyone knows the importance of disposal and recycling of medical waste. All the waste of health care providers falls under the category of medical waste. This blog will give an insight into the definition of medical waste along with its types. Furthermore, it will explore the risks associated with improper management of medical waste. Lastly, it will be concluded with best practices to be used for responsible handling of medical waste.

What is Medical Waste?

 As the name signifies, medical waste includes any sort of waste being generated by medical facilities, healthcare facilities, hospitals or clinics, etc. It has multiple names, such as biomedical waste, clinical waste, biohazardous waste, regulated medical waste, infectious medical waste, or healthcare waste. Medical waste can be anything soaked in blood, cultures of infections, syringes, discarded vaccines, etc. It has potential health risks to human beings and the environment as well. Some of the waste can be disposed of, whereas some can be recycled to generate natural resources. Medical waste can be efficiently treated by identifying its origin.

Types of Medical Waste

Multiple types of medical waste are briefly discussed below:


 The first type of medical waste is called sharps. It can be any object or device that can pierce the skin and is mostly used in procedures. These objects require special attention at the time of disposal as they are prone to potential risks of injury and transmission of infections as well. Needles, syringes, lancets, scalpels, and autoinjectors fall under the category of sharps. These are identified and segregated at the initial stage for proper sharps disposal and to avoid injuries.

Infectious Waste

 This particular type of waste is also called biohazardous waste, as it contains pathogens, bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. It has a risk of easy transmission, which makes it necessary for everyone to dispose of it carefully. Infectious waste can be generated during procedures, treatment, or research on this waste.


 Pathological waste is generated during autopsies, where medical professionals deal with human tissues or organs. The body parts, including anatomical structures, limbs, or organs, along with human fetuses from stillbirths and animal tissues at the laboratory or research settings, also fall under this category. This waste should be segregated, packed in a leak-proof container, treated, and then disposed of according to local regulations.


 This waste is generated from laboratories specifically from unused radiotherapy liquid. The utensils being used in the therapies also fall under the category of radioactive waste. Such liquids are also used in curing cancer, which makes it even more hazardous. Radioactive waste needs to be sorted on-site within premises of specially designed facilities. Some of these can be treated to stabilize and reduce its volume.


 Clinical laboratories or pathology labs generate chemical waste through solvents or reagents for testing and research. In the setting of pharmaceuticals, expired or unused medicines fall under the category of chemical waste. Chemicals are also used for cleaning, disinfecting, or sterilizing equipment or tools during surgical procedures.


 Pharmaceutical waste includes all unused or expired medications. It can be generated from multiple sources, such as households, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and healthcare facilities. Another overlooked factor includes contaminated pharmaceuticals, which majorly contribute to this waste. All the pharmaceutical needs to be identified, stored, labeled, undergo relevant treatment processes, and ultimately disposed of using appropriate techniques.

Genotoxic Waste

 Genotoxic waste is a highly hazardous form of medical waste as it can adversely affect the genetic material within cells or can cause cancer. It adversely affects human health and can ultimately cause cancer. It is generated from cytotoxic drugs, radiopharmaceuticals, or certain laboratory chemicals. 

General Non-Regulated Medical Waste

 It is a non-hazardous category of medical waste. It contains certain items that do not pose significant risk or danger and can be easily handled or disposed of using standard methods. It can be generated from empty containers of IVs, medication vials, non-infectious packaging materials, disposable personal protective equipment, and unused, expired, or uncalled medications.

Improper Management of Medical Waste

 Medical waste poses several health hazards to healthcare providers, waste workers, and the public as well. All the types of medical waste discussed earlier should be identified and dealt with effectively to avoid possible infections or diseases. The waste is contaminated with pathogens that can transmit infections to individuals who have direct interaction with it. Sharps need to be placed in separate labeled bins to avoid accidental injuries to waste handlers. Improper management of waste not only affects our health, but rather it impacts the environment. Inadequate landfilling and open dumping of medical waste contribute to environmental pollution. Toxic substances such as chemicals or radioactive substances can contaminate the soil and water leading to impact the ecosystems and food chains.

Best Practices for Medical Waste Handling

 It can be witnessed through this blog that if medical waste is not disposed of or recycled properly then it can lead to potential health issues and it can impact our environment as well. All these potential risks can be avoided by classifying medical waste correctly. At the initial stage, medical waste should be segregated according to the type which means regulated medical waste goes in a red bag. The color-coding system should be used to separate waste such as trace chemo waste that goes in yellow containers, black containers are for pharmaceutical waste, and blue containers for all the other waste. Sharps should be contained in puncture-proof bags to avoid direct contact with them. Before transferring medical waste, it should be taped properly and stored in a secure and dry place.


 Medical waste has a major proportion in overall waste being generated. It can be generated through hospitals, clinics, healthcare centers, physician’s offices, veterinary clinics, or research laboratories. Research has shown that improper disposal of medical waste leads to potential health issues and environmental instability as well. To mitigate these dangers, it is crucial for healthcare facilities, waste management services, and regulatory authorities to implement proper waste management practices, including segregation, treatment, and disposal in accordance with established guidelines and regulations.

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