Different Types of Medical Waste and How to Dispose Them

Generally defined by the EPA as any type of waste contaminated by blood, body fluids, or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), the different types of medical waste are separated into four categories—infectious, hazardous, radioactive, and general waste.

There are countless types of medical waste in healthcare, many of which are required to be collected, treated, and disposed of differently, making it essential that as a healthcare provider and medical waste generator, you understand the different types and how to handle them.

What Is Medical Waste According to the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines medical waste as any healthcare waste that might be contaminated by blood, body fluids, or other potentially infectious materials.

With that being a very general definition though, the EPA takes further steps in its medical waste guidelines to define and categorize medical waste into four separate groups: infectious, hazardous, radioactive, and general medical waste.

Infectious Waste

Medical Waste Pros can help you safely dispose of all types of medical waste.Infectious waste is any type of waste that poses a risk of infection to humans or animals. Although infectious waste comes in many forms, some of the most common include:

  • Blood, blood products, and bodily fluids
  • Blood-soaked bandages
  • Human/animal body parts and tissue
  • Blood cultures
  • Swabs used to inoculate cultures
  • Stocks
  • Surgical waste (discarded gloves, etc.)

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste is a non-infectious waste but still has the potential to affect humans. To be considered hazardous the waste must also meet the federal guidelines from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for what is and isn’t hazardous waste. Common types of hazardous waste include:

  • Chemicals (medical and industrial)
  • Chemotherapy agents
  • Hazardous medications
  • Sharps


Medical Waste Pros helps you dispose of sharps wasteAlthough technically they fall into the hazardous waste category, sharps are often treated as a separate waste type because they need to be collected and disposed of separately from other medical wastes. Common sharps types include:

  • Needles
  • Syringes
  • Lancets
  • Scalpels
  • Razors
  • Ampules
  • Broken glass

Radioactive Waste

As the name implies, radioactive waste is any waste containing radioactive materials. Besides just waste generated from nuclear medicine treatments though, other common radioactive waste generators and types include:

  • Cancer Therapies
  • Brachytherapy treatments
  • Radiotherapy liquid
  • Lab research liquids
  • Medical equipment using radioactive isotopes
  • Contaminated glassware and supplies
  • Fluorine-18 (F-18)
  • Technetium-99 (T-99m)
  • Iodine-131 (I-131)
  • Strontium-89 (Sr-89)
  • Iridium-192 (Ir-192)
  • Cobalt-60 (Co-60)

General Waste

Dispose of your general waste with Medical Waste ProsGeneral medical waste is similar to other non-hazardous office or household wastes and makes up the majority of waste produced in healthcare.

Although it’s not always the first thing to come to mind with medical waste, the patient’s PHI, and medical records disposed with other general medical waste is tightly regulated by HIPAA, making it important to also take steps like working with a shredding provider to help dispose of medical paperwork safely.

How to Dispose of the Different Medical Waste Types

There are multiple methods like incineration for disposing waste, but because the various types of medical waste all have different treatment requirements it’s important to start the disposal process by separating medical waste first.

Separating Medical Waste Types

Medical Waste Pros helps you dispose of a red medical waste disposal containerInfectious Waste

Red Containers and Bags

Medical Waste Pros disposes of black waste containers for hazardous medical wasteHazardous Waste

Black Containers

Medical Waste Pros disposes Sharps container marked with biohazard symbol for collecting needles and syringesSharps Waste

Puncture-Resistant Containers with Biohazard Symbols

Medical Waste Pros disposes Sealed container used to collect and store radioactive medical wasteRadioactive Waste

Shielded Containers with Radioactive Symbol

Medical Waste Pros Shredding and trash container for general medical wasteGeneral Municipal Waste

Shredding and Trash Bins

Medical Waste Treatment and Disposal Methods

  • Incineration – Typically used for pathological and pharmaceutical waste—never for plastics
  • Autoclaving – Typically used for infectious waste, sharps, and other hazardous wastes
  • Microwaving – Alternative to autoclaving for treating infectious waste, sharps, and other hazardous wastes
  • Chemical – Typically used for chemical and liquid waste (i.e. laboratory cleaning waste)
  • Biological – Experimental and rarely-used method for treating hazardous and infectious organisms

Are You Handling and Disposing Your Medical Waste Safely?

Join countless organizations in the healthcare industry who we’ve helped to learn more about the medical waste they’re producing and how to safely dispose of it. Medical Waste Pros can provide all the medical waste disposal services and information you need.

For free quotes on medical waste disposal services, simply fill out the form or just give us a call at 888-755-6370 today.