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Biomedical Waste

Background Information
Definition of Biomedical Waste
Managing Biomedical Waste
OSHA Regulations
Statutes, Regulations and Guidelines
More Information

Background Information

Medical waste differs from hazardous waste. Hazardous waste is regulated by the US EPA (and related state rules) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Medical waste is not covered federal environmental laws or US EPA regulations (with the exception of a medical waste that also meets the definition of hazardous waste). Rather, medical waste is mostly controlled by state law and associated regulations. In addition to state environmental agency laws/rules, aspects of medical waste management are also controlled by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (federal and/or state) and Department of Transportation (federal and state).

Each of our 50 states have developed rules and implemented regulations for medical waste. The state rules vary to some extent, including terminology. Depending on which state you live in, you may hear the terms regulated medical waste, biohazardous waste or infectious medical waste. In most cases, these terms all refer to the same thing: that portion of the medical waste stream that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids or other potentially infectious materials, thus posing a significant risk of transmitting infection.

Most states have regulations covering packaging, storage, and transportation of medical waste. Some states require health care facilities to register and/or obtain a permit. State rules may also cover the development of contingency plans, on-site treatment, training, waste tracking, recordkeeping, and reporting.

In most states, the environmental protection agency is primarily responsible for developing and enforcing regulations for medical waste management and disposal. Although in some states, the department of health may play an important role or even serve as the primary regulatory agency. Where both agencies are involved, typically the department of health is responsible for on-site management and the environmental agency is responsible for transportation and disposal.

OSHA, whether it is the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration or an OSHA state program (24 states operate their own program), regulates several aspects of medical waste, including management of sharps, requirements for containers that hold or store medical waste, labeling of medical waste bags/containers, and employee training. These standards are designed to protect healthcare workers from the risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens. However, they also help to systematically manage wastes, which benefit the public and environment.

Regulated medical waste is defined by the US Department of Transportation as a hazardous material. DOT rules mostly apply to transporters rather than healthcare facilities; although, knowledge of these rules is important because of the liability associated with shipping waste off-site.

Definition of Biomedical Waste

Biomedical Waste means any solid waste which contains pathological waste, biological waste, cultures, and stocks of infectious agents and associated biologicals, contaminated animal carcasses (body parts, their bedding, and other wastes from such animals), chemotherapy waste, discarded medical equipment and parts, not including expendable supplies and materials, which have not been decontaminated.

  • Pathological waste means all recognizable human tissues and body parts except teeth, which are removed during surgery, obstetrical procedures, autopsy, and laboratory procedures.
  • Biological waste means blood and blood products, exudates, secretions, suctionings, and other body fluids, which contains free liquids and cannot be or are not directly discarded into a municipal sewer system.
  • Cultures and stocks of infectious agents and associated biologicals including cultures from medical and pathological laboratories, cultures and stocks of infectious agents from research and industrial laboratories, wastes from the production of biologicals, discarded live and attenuated vaccines, and culture dishes and devices used to transfer, inoculate, and mix cultures.
  • Contaminated animal carcasses, body parts, their bedding, and other wastes from such animals which are infected with or which have been exposed to infectious agents, capable of causing disease in man.
  • Sharps, which mean any discarded article that may cause punctures or cuts. Such waste includes, but is not limited to, items such as needles, IV tubing and syringes with needles attached, and scalpel blades.
  • Chemotherapy waste, which means any disposable material which has come in contact with cytotoxic/antineoplastic agents toxic to cells) and/or antineoplastic agents (agents that inhibit or prevent the growth and spread of tumors or malignant cells) during the preparation, handling, and administration of such agents. Such waste includes, but is not limited to, masks, gloves, gowns, empty IV tubing bags and vials, and other contaminated materials. The above waste must first be classified as empty which means such quantity that it is not subject to other federal or state waste management regulations prior to being handled as biomedical waste.
  • Discarded medical equipment and parts, excluding expendable supplies and materials included in the above wastes, which have not been decontaminated, and that were in contact with infectious agents.


Managing Biomedical Waste


Unless exempt under the regulations, these requirements apply to all persons generating or handling biomedical waste, including but not limited to: ambulatory service centers, blood banks, clinics, county health departments, dental offices, funeral homes, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), hospitals, laboratories, medical buildings, physicians offices, veterinary offices, research and manufacturing facilities, nursing homes, and biomedical waste transportation, storage, treatment, and disposal facilities.

Storage and Containment of Biomedical Waste

  • Containment of biomedical waste shall be in a manner and location which affords protection from animals, rain and wind, does not provide a breeding place or a food source for insects and rodents, and minimizes exposure to the public.
  • Biomedical waste shall be segregated by separate containment from other waste at the point of origin.
  • Biomedical waste, except for sharps, shall be placed in containers that are impervious to moisture and have strength sufficient to preclude ripping, tearing, or bursting under normal conditions of use. The containers shall be securely closed so as to prevent leakage or expulsion of solid or liquid wastes during storage, handling, or transport.
  • Sharps shall be contained for storage, transportation, treatment and subsequent disposal in leak-proof, rigid, puncture-resistant containers that are taped closed or tightly lidded to preclude loss of contents.
  • Rigid containers of discarded sharps and all other disposable containers used for containment of biomedical waste shall be red or orange in color or clearly identified with the universal biohazard symbol or clearly marked with the word "Biohazard".
  • Biomedical waste contained in disposable containers as prescribed above, shall be placed for storage, handling, or transport in disposable or reusable pails, cartons, boxes, drums, dumpsters, or portable bins. The containment system shall have a tight fitting cover and be kept clean and in good repair.
  • The containers may be of any color and shall be conspicuously labeled with the universal biohazard symbol and the word "Biohazard" on the sides so as to be readily visible from any lateral direction when the container is upright.
  • Reusable containers used for shipment of biomedical waste shall be thoroughly washed and decontaminated each time they are emptied.
  • Reusable pails, drums, dumpsters or bins used for containment of biomedical waste shall not be used for other purposes except after being decontaminated by procedures as described above and after the universal biohazard symbol and word "Biohazard" are removed.

Transfer of Biomedical Waste to Off-Site Treatment or Disposal Facilities

  • Any generator of biomedical waste shall transfer custody of the waste only to a collector who is operating under authority of the regulations.
  • Biomedical waste shall not be transported in the same vehicle with other solid waste unless the biomedical waste is contained in a separate, fully enclosed leak-proof container within the vehicle compartment or unless all of the waste is to be treated as biomedical waste.
  • Biomedical waste shall be delivered for storage, including intermediate transfer, and treatment only to a facility or location for which there is a valid and appropriate operating permit.
  • Surfaces of transport vehicles that have contacted spilled or leaked biomedical waste shall be decontaminated.
  • Equipment used to transport waste from the generator to the off-site treatment or disposal facility may not destroy the integrity of the container.
  • Vehicles used for the transport of biomedical waste shall not be used for transportation of food or food products.

Treatment of Biomedical Waste

If treated in accordance with the following procedures, the waste shall no longer be considered biomedical waste and may be combined and handled with regular solid waste. Biomedical waste shall be treated by one of the following methods prior to disposal at a permitted solid waste disposal facility.

  • Incineration in a thermal treatment technology facility that provides complete combustion of waste to render it nonpathogenic.
  • Decontamination by heating with steam under pressure (autoclave) so as to render the biomedical waste noninfectious.
  • Other methods as approved by the Director.
  • Fluid or semisolid waste may be discharged to a sewage treatment system that provides secondary treatment of waste if approved by the agency responsible for the operation of the sewage treatment system.
  • Biomedical wastes consisting of recognizable human anatomical remains shall not be disposed of by landfilling.
  • Chemotherapy waste shall be treated at a permitted thermal treatment technology facility or other approved facility.
  • Steam decontamination may not be used for treatment of chemotherapy waste.
  • All facilities treating regulated quantities of biomedical waste must, at a minimum, comply with the above criteria. Commercial biomedical waste treatment facilities may not construct or operate a biomedical waste treatment facility without first obtaining a solid waste handling permit.
  • On-site biomedical waste treatment facilities are required to obtain a solid waste permit-by-Rule, and must comply with all applicable requirements. Commercial biomedical waste treatment facility means a facility that accepts over 25 percent of its biomedical waste from other, off-site, facilities, which are not owned by the facility owning the treatment or disposal facility, generally for a fee.

Disposal of Biomedical Waste

  • Biomedical wastes treated in accordance with the regulations shall be properly disposed of at a properly permitted facility, unless otherwise approved by the Director.
  • Biomedical waste from generators of less than 100 pounds per month shall be properly disposed of at a municipal solid waste landfill or treatment facility permitted under authority of these Rules or other facilities approved by the Director.
  • The disposal of untreated biomedical waste, from generators of more than 100 pounds per month, by landfilling, is prohibited.

OSHA Regulations

In addition to the state medical waste environmental regulations there are some Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules that apply to medical/infectious waste.  Georgia is one of 26 states covered entirely by the federal OSHA program. This program is operated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA rules (Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens Standards) impact various aspects of medical/infectious waste, including management of sharps, requirements for containers that hold or store medical/infectious waste, labeling of medical/infectious waste bags/containers, and employee training. 

Statutes, Regulations and Guidelines

Rules of Georgia, Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, Chapter 391-3-4 Solid Waste Management


Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Solid Waste Management Program

More Information

Biomedical Collection and Treatment Facilities, Permit by Rule (MS Excel) [Revised Jun 2014]

Biomedical Waste Treatment Facilities, Commercial (MS Excel) [Revised Jan 2014]