To ensure biomedical waste doesn’t find its way into our environment, regulations and requirements were developed for generators on how to handle the disposal of medical waste. While environmental sustainability continues to be a top priority, as new viruses, such as Ebola and the Coronavirus (COVID-19), raise public concern around disease transmission and special handling that is required for disposal of biomedical waste, it is more important than ever for healthcare workers to familiarize themselves with the proper management and disposal of biomedical waste.
What Is Biomedical Waste?
Biomedical waste is any waste that is generated during a diagnostic process, or immunization, and can also be created during research initiatives or processes that involve biological testing. Biomedical waste is any waste saturated with liquid or semi-liquid blood or other potentially infectious material (OPIM) that has the potential to cause harm or infect humans. Although there is no universally accepted definition of medical waste, most provincial agencies differentiate wastes that have the potential for causing infection with regulations around the collection, transportation, treatment, and disposal.
Biomedical waste includes, but is not limited to:
- Non-anatomical waste: items saturated or visibly contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials: bandages, gauze, and personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns, goggles, plastic tubing
- Sharps waste: needles, scalpels, syringes, lancets and any other object which was exposed to potentially infectious material and is capable of puncturing human skin (e.g., broken glass)
- Pathological (or anatomical) waste: limbs, specimens, tissue samples (decanted of preservatives)
- Trace chemotherapy wastes: masks, gloves and gowns, empty vials, empty intravenous bags, tubing, and bottles, which were used in the administration of chemotherapeutic drugs
- Laboratory wastes: cultures and stocks that contain human disease-causing agents
Who Generates Biomedical Waste?
A large majority of biomedical waste is generated in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, dentists, research facilities, veterinarians, and surgery centers. But healthcare facilities are not alone. Tattoo parlors and funeral homes also generate biomedical waste.
How Is Biomedical Waste Regulated?
Regulations are in place to help reduce the risk of injury and infection during handling, at the point of collection and transport for ultimate disposal. Biomedical waste disposal is overseen by several regulatory bodies, including: Transport Canada, Health Canada, Environment Canada, Provincial Environment Ministries, Canada Labour Code, and Provincial Labour Ministries.
For instance, through the Environmental Protection Act, the Ministry of the Environment regulates biomedical waste stating the waste must be properly segregated and handled. In addition to the federal and provincial acts and regulations, there are numerous guidelines and standards that further define how biomedical waste should be handled from the point of generation to final disposal. These include the Canadian Biosafety standards and guidelines, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment guidelines on the management of biomedical waste, and various Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standards on the management of healthcare waste and disposal of sharps.
While biomedical waste generated in healthcare facilities and businesses is fully regulated, there are also specific guidelines and rules that apply to consumer-generated biomedical waste in most provinces.
How Is Biomedical Waste Treated?
There are a variety of treatment methods for the disposal of biomedical waste; the two most common methods are:
- Autoclaving: Waste is subjected to a timed, high-temperature, high-pressure steaming process to render any infectious agents neutral, after which the waste is ready for disposal and taken to a landfill. Autoclaving is the most common form of treatment.
- Incineration: Waste is subjected to high temperatures to promote combustion or burning, and the remaining ash is then sent to the landfill for disposal. Certain materials such as pathological wastes, waste pharmaceuticals, and trace chemotherapeutic wastes should be segregated and incinerated to ensure proper destruction.
Learn more about how Stericycle helps healthcare organizations compliantly manage biomedical waste to ensure staff and environmental safety.