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What is Medical Waste?

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Medical Waste Definition

What is medical waste? Medical waste is defined as: potentially infectious waste materials generated at health care facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, physician’s offices, dental practices, blood banks, and veterinary hospitals/clinics, as well as medical research facilities and laboratories.

The Medical Waste tracking Act of 1988 defines medical waste as “any solid waste that is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals, in research pertaining thereto, or in the production or testing of biologicals.” This definition includes, but is not limited to:

  • blood-soaked bandages
  • culture dishes and other glassware
  • discarded surgical gloves
  • discarded surgical instruments
  • discarded needles used to give shots or draw blood (e.g., medical sharps)
  • cultures, stocks, swabs used to inoculate cultures
  • removed body organs (e.g., tonsils, appendices, limbs)
  • discarded lancets

EPA promulgated the Medical Waste Tracking Act regulations on March 24, 1989. The regulations for this two year program went into effect on June 24, 1989 and expired on June 21, 1991 and were in effect in four states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island) and Puerto Rico.

During this time, EPA also gathered information and performed several studies related to medical waste management. The Medical Waste Tracking Act and EPA’s associated program served to focus attention on the medical waste issue and provided a model for some states and other federal agencies in developing their own medical waste programs.

Types of Medical Waste Disposal

In the United States, there are three main methods for disposal of medical waste: On-site, truck service, and disposal by mail.

On-site treatment of medical waste involves the use of expensive industrial equipment, and is expensive to purchase and complex to manage due to many local, state, and federal environmental regulations — few facilities can afford such equipment.

Disposal using a truck service involves hiring the services of a medical waste disposal company who haul medical waste in special biohazard containers (cardboard boxes, or reusable plastic bins) for destruction at a special treatment facility. There are many independent medical waste haulers across the country. GRP has been an independent, family-owned, medical waste disposal company since 1989.

Mail-back medical waste disposal is where the waste is shipped through the U.S. Mail instead of by a truck service. Mail-back medical waste disposal is under the jurisdiction of very strict postal regulations (collection and shipping containers must be independently tested and approved by the postal service for use) and only available by a handful of companies. GRP has been providing mail back service since 1999, and it is a very cost-effective way for smaller practices to disposal of their medical waste.

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