RMW Resource Locator Back to the Gateway


Medical Waste

Background Information
Definition of Medical Waste
Managing Medical Wastes
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 Medical Waste

Nevada has adopted the US Dept. Of Transportation definition for regulated medical waste found in (49 CFR Part 173).  Regulated medical waste means a waste or reusable material known to contain or suspected of containing an infectious substance in Risk Group 2 or 3 and generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals; research on the diagnosis, treatment or immunization of human beings or animals; or the production or testing of biological products.  Where, Risk group means a ranking of a micro-organism's ability to cause injury through disease. A risk group is defined by criteria developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) based on the severity of the disease caused by the organism, the mode and relative ease of transmission, the degree of risk to both an individual and a community, and the reversibility of the disease through the availability of known and effective preventative agents and treatment.

Managing Medical Waste

Nevada Division of Environmental Protection states that if medical waste has been treated by incineration, autoclaving or an alternative method approved by the solid waste management authority, it can be managed as ordinary solid waste with no special requirements.  Special requirements apply to the storage, collection, labeling, transporting and disposal of regulated medical waste.  Nevada regulations allow the direct disposal by landfilling of untreated medical waste.

There are services throughout the state for the collection and disposal of medical waste generated in healthcare and veterinary facilities.  Services for home-generated medical waste sharps are not prevalent, however. 

According to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, there are two basic ways of managing medical waste that can protect workers and the public from disease transmission: 1) treatment to render the waste non-infectious, or 2) segregation to prevent exposure.  Nevada regulations do not require treatment of medical waste.  Disposal in a permitted landfill according to approved practices is acceptable.  However, until the waste had been either treated or disposed, it must be stored and collected according to the requirements of Nevada Administrative Code (NAC) 444.662.  The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adopted regulations to limit workers’ occupational exposure to blood and other body fluids which may pose a risk of infection by bloodborne pathogens.  These rules are discussed below.

Storage, Collection and Disposal Regulations

The Nevada Administrative Code (NAC) contains the following regulations concerning the storage, collection, and disposal of medical waste:

  • Medical wastes must be stored in watertight, tightly covered and clearly labeled containers that are resistant to corrosion and are in a safe location, inaccessible to the public.
  • Medical wastes must not be deposited in containers with other solid wastes.
  • Medical wastes must be transported separately from other solid wastes to an approved disposal site and handled in accordance with a method approved by the solid waste management authority.
  • Medical wastes may be deposited at a disposal site only if provisions for such disposal are included in the operational plan and approved by the solid waste management authority.

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.  Nevada is one of 24 states operating an approved occupational safety and health 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

Nevada Administrative Code Chapter 444 Containing NAC 444.570 to 444.7499 Solid Waste Disposal


State of Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

NDEP Solid Waste Branch (General) 775-687-9462

Nevada State Health Division

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Clark County Health District (702) 383-1275

Washoe County District Health Department (775) 328-2434

Nevada Division of Industrial Relations, Safety Consultation and Training Section

(775) 688-1474 (for information concerning OSHA Boodborne Pathogens rule)

More Information

Nevada’s Solid Waste Management Plan

Solid Waste Fact Sheet: Collection and Disposal of Medical Waste