Waste generated in connection with health care activities includes a broad range of materials, ranging from used needles and syringes, soiled dressings, recognizable body parts, diagnostic samples, blood, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and radioactive materials.
Improper management of health care waste can be dangerous and potentially expose health care workers, waste handlers, patients and the community at large to infection, toxic effects/injuries and environmental pollution. It is critical that all medical waste materials are segregated at the point of generation, appropriately treated and safely disposed of in a regulatory compliant manner.
Types of Medical Waste
Medical waste and its by-products comprise a diverse range of materials, as illustrated by the following:
- Infectious Waste: Waste contaminated with blood (and its by-products), cultures and stocks of infectious agents, waste from patients in isolation wards, discarded diagnostic samples containing blood and body fluids, infected animals from laboratories, contaminated materials (swabs, bandages, etc.) and equipment (such as disposable medical devices);
- Pathological Waste: Recognizable body parts and contaminated animal carcasses;
- Sharps: Syringes, needles, disposable scalpels and blades, etc.;
- Chemicals: Fixatives and stabilizers;
- Pharmaceuticals: Expired, unused and contaminated drugs, as well as vaccines and sera;
- Genotoxic waste: Highly hazardous, mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic materials, such as cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and their metabolites;
- Radioactive waste: Includes items such as glassware contaminated with radioactive diagnostic material or radiotherapeutic materials; and
- Heavy metals waste: Includes items such as broken mercury thermometers.
Infectious and anatomic waste collectively represents the majority of hazardous waste (up to 15% of total waste) generated from healthcare activities. And, while sharps waste accounts for only about 1% of total medical waste, it can be a major source of disease transmission if not properly managed.