LEARNING OBJECTIVE: Identify medical waste sorting, packaging, handling, and disposal procedures.

Concern about potentially adverse effects of infectious waste on public health and the environment has gained widespread media attention. While scientific evidence shows that infectious waste is no greater threat to the environment or public health than residential solid waste, medical facilities are perceived to be a source of pollution. It is, therefore, imperative that a medical facility establish an effective plan for dealing with infectious waste. This plan should include the segregation, packing and handling, storage, transportation, treatment, and disposal of such debris. The management plan should establish recordkeeping systems and personnel training programs, and should incorporate the minimally acceptable management standards.


Infectious waste is liquid or solid waste containing pathogens in sufficient numbers and of sufficient virulence to cause infectious disease in susceptible hosts exposed to the waste. Several examples are:


Several steps should be used in the treatment and disposal of infectious waste. These steps include the identification of waste; segregation, sorting, packaging, handling, transporting, and treating of waste; and, finally, disposal of the waste. The treatment and disposal methods shown in table 2–2 are the minimally acceptable standards.

Table 2–2.—Treatment and Disposal Methods for Infectious Waste

Types of Infectious Waste Methods of Treatment Methods of Disposal
Microbiological Steam sterilization1 Chemical disinfection2 Incineration3 Sanitary landfill
Pathological5 Incineration3 & 4 Cremation Sanitary landfill Burial6
Bulk blood and other potentially infectious liquids Gelatinization6 Sanitary sewer7 Sanitary landfill8
Sharps in sharps containers Steam sterilization Incineration Sanitary landfill Sanitary landfill
  1. For effective sterilization, the temperature must be maintained at
    1210 C (2500 F) for at least 90 minutes, at 15 pounds per square inch
    of gauge pressure. Bacillus stearothermophilus spore strips must be
    used weekly to test the sterilization process.
  2. Chemical disinfection is most appropriate for liquids.
  3. Ash remaining after incineration may go directly to the sanitary landfill,
    unless state or local regulations require testing the ash for characteristics of hazardous waste.
  4. Disposal of placentas by grinding with subsequent discharge to a
    sanitary sewer is acceptable unless prohibited by county or local laws/regulations.
  5. Burial or cremation is acceptable.
  6. Must be further treated by steam sterilization or incineration.
  7. Discharge to a sanitary sewer is acceptable unless prohibited by county or local laws/regulations.
  8. Must be treated by steam sterilization or incineration before landfill disposal.