Medical Waste Industry Insights

How to Properly Segregate and Dispose of Medical Waste

By David Ryan

When dealing with patient care, generating medical waste is inevitable. Proper segregation and disposal of this waste is essential to protect patients, staff and the community.

Regulated medical waste and hazardous waste should each be treated with the utmost care and caution. Here’s a look at several different types of waste, plus best practices for its segregation and disposal.

Regulated Medical Waste Segregation

Most healthcare facilities generate regulated medical waste. This includes items saturated with blood or bodily fluids, plus needles or other sharps that have been used on a patient or are otherwise contaminated with blood or bodily fluids.

Careful segregation of each type of waste is essential to ensure safe and proper disposal. The following breakdown can help with some of the most common types of medical waste:

Red. Pathological waste (non-sharp items) should be segregated into separate red bags and should be labeled for incineration.


Yellow. Chemotherapy waste should be placed in separate yellow containers intended for incineration.


Sharps containers. Needles and other sharp elements should always be placed in a designated sharps container.


Well-marked receptacles for each type of medical waste should be easily accessible by staff wherever waste is generated.

Hazardous Waste Segregation

When it comes to hazardous waste, organizations must be careful and honest about onsite management and disposal. If these dangerous materials are not handled appropriately, they can be deadly to staff and patients, but also to the environment and surrounding community. This can result in incredible liability, fines and even imprisonment.

Always know what (if any) types of waste are present in your facility.

Understanding what types of waste are generated in your facility ensures you are prepared for proper waste segregation and disposal. The types of hazardous waste are defined by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976.

Generators need to determine if their waste is listed (found on the U, P, F, or K lists) and/or if the waste exhibits a hazardous characteristic – in other words, if it’s ignitable, corrosive, reactive or toxic. This can be done through formulary review or a lab test to determine a waste profile.

How to deal with one of the most common types of hazardous waste

One of the most common types of hazardous waste found in healthcare facilities is pharmaceutical waste. As pharmaceuticals are opened and partially used or expired, they are subject to specific segregation and disposal requirements.

A pharmaceutical is considered hazardous waste when:

  • It is being disposed of and not reverse distributed or returned.
  • It contains a chemical that is on one of the lists mentioned above as the sole active ingredient, or, if that chemical/compound exhibits one of the hazardous characteristics by definition.
  • It is not conditionally exempt from the EPA standards at the federal and local levels.

Organizations should have special, clearly-marked containers designated for hazardous pharmaceutical waste. Incompatible hazardous wastes should have separate containers to prevent potential chemical reactions. For example, corrosive acids should be kept separate from corrosive bases, and oxidizers should be kept separate from flammable wastes.


Non-hazardous pharmacy waste should also be segregated as a best practice and sent to approved incinerators. This fulfills a zero landfill initiative, preserving a positive culture of quality, health, safety and environmental consciousness.


Download our free guide, Pharmacy Waste Principles & Best Practices, for actionable steps to empower your facility with best practices for managing pharmaceutical waste streams

Proper location of your hazardous pharmaceutical waste containers keeps the public safe.

It is paramount for organizations to effectively locate hazardous drug disposal containers. Choose locations that are accessible only by trained staff and not the general public. In most facilities, a medication room and/or a secured nurses’ station would be sufficient.


The right service provider can alleviate stress over medical waste segregation and disposal.


Every facility has its own unique needs. Your service provider should not only understand your unique needs, but operate with your best interests at heart. United Medical Waste Management has provided risk mitigation and environmental health and safety services for more than a decade. Contact us for a free waste audit and facility evaluation.


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