Different Types of Medical Waste & Their Disposal Methods

different types of medical waste disposal methods

Medical waste—usually defined as any potentially infectious material produced in a healthcare facility—comes in many different types. For example, a routine checkup may produce sharps waste (like needles) or “red bag” waste like bandages or surgical gloves.

Proper handling and disposal of the different types of medical waste is crucial not only for worker safety, but also compliance with OSHA regulations. When it comes to disposing of your medical waste, you can’t just throw it away. Due to potential health hazards, there are special procedures that must be followed. There are different disposal methods for each type of medical waste, and each type must be discarded separately.

The Different Types of Medical Waste

Medical waste disposal bags and containers are color-coded to simplify the process, while needles and syringes get their own containers altogether. It’s important to understand what type of waste goes in each container to avoid injury or cross-contamination. Below is a breakdown of the types of medical waste, and the corresponding container.

Biohazard or Infectious Waste

Red bag medical waste includes all waste that is biohazardous (also known as potentially infectious). This includes discarded vaccines, items with dried blood or other fluids, discarded surgical tools, or cytotoxic materials.


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As might be apparent from the name, sharps includes used syringes and other needles. These are common in hospitals and other places where blood is drawn or drugs are administered.

As biohazardous waste, sharps may pose an additional health risk because they can easily puncture gloves and skin. As such, they should be carefully disposed of at places like hospitals, urgent care facilities, or other locations that offer health services.

Chemotherapy Waste

Yellow and black medical waste bins are both for chemotherapy waste of different types. Which bin should be used depends on whether the waste is considered empty under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) standards.

Empty chemotherapy waste items that have less than 3% of their original volume remaining are considered “RCRA empty.” These items, including empty syringes, vials, and IV bags, should be placed in the yellow medical waste containers.

Black bins, on the other hand, are for chemotherapy medical waste that is not “RCRA empty.” This includes partially used vials, IV bags and tubing, or discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning materials.

Three recycle bins in a hospital for different kinds of waste.Pharmaceutical Waste

Blue bins are for collecting hazardous pharmaceutical waste. Certain pharmacy products designated hazardous by the RCRA include nicotine, bulk powders, and expired and unused pills. Other drugs like Warfarin, and compounds like cyclophosphamide or lindane also belong with blue bin waste.

Disposal Methods

Proper separation and disposal of medical waste in the correct container is only the first step. Once a bin is full, it must be properly destroyed or treated. The method used depends on the kind of medical waste. Common types of treatment include incineration, irradiation, autoclaving, or chemical disinfection.

Need Safe Medical Waste Disposal?

Shred Nations partners with professional medical waste disposal services that can make sure your medical waste is disposed of safely and properly. To get started call us at (800) 747-3365 or fill out our form for a free no-obligation quote from providers near you.