What Happens to Sharps: Autoclaving & Incineration?

Medical waste and used sharps are generated in medical facilities, homes, and businesses every day. Medical waste is classified as either biohazardous, hazardous, or regulated waste that must be handled and disposed of in accordance with federal and local regulations. Some common examples of medical waste include:

  • Sharps – Needles, syringes, blades, lancets, and contaminated glass
  • Blood and bodily fluids – Containers of or items saturated with plasma, blood components, or any type of human fluids
  • Laboratory waste – Cultures or stocks that have been contaminated with infectious agents
  • Pathological waste – Tissues or body parts removed from humans or animals during surgery or autopsy

It is the responsibility of the generator of waste to dispose of sharps and medical waste properly. Generators are liable for the correct classification, packaging, and labelling of their waste. Once correctly segregated and packaged, Medical Waste Pros will collect your waste and transport it to the proper treatment facility. If labelled incorrectly, your waste could end up in the wrong facility, risking injury to workers and damage to machinery.

Proper Disposal of Sharps

Sharps are generally defined as medical devices that can prick or cut skin. Proper handling and disposal of sharps is important to prevent the spread of disease and needle stick injuries. After a sharps device is used, it should immediately be placed in a puncture-proof container with a tightly fitting lid. The container should be filled no more than three-quarters full and stored in a safe location, out of the reach of children and pets.

Sharps disposal containers must be labelled “do not recycle” and “biohazard.” Clearly describe what is in the container by adding “used sharps” and “hazardous waste.” FDA-approved containers may come with a label or you can check your local health department website for printable warning labels.

Containers can be picked up by a licensed biohazard waste disposal company, mailed-back, or dropped off at a designated sharps drop off site. Learn more sharps services from Medical Waste Pros by giving us a call at (888) 755-6370.

What Happens Next?

Once your sharps and other medical waste has been collected, it will be taken to a facility permitted for the treatment of regulated medical waste. Two primary methods of treating medical waste are autoclave and incineration. Medical Waste Pros offers both types of treatment to provide the safest options for their customers.


Autoclaving is a method known as steam sterilization. The process uses heat, steam, and pressure to sterilize medical waste, instruments, and applicators. Hot steam continuously enters the autoclave to kill microorganisms and germs. The time required in the autoclave is based on the amount and size of the equipment being sterilized.

After autoclaving; waste is shredded, taken to a landfill, or used in a waste-energy facility as an alternative fuel source. Autoclaving tends to be less expensive than other methods and has no documented health impacts.


Incineration uses heat and fire to dispose of medical waste with a controlled burn. Your waste will be completely sterilized, destroyed, and kept out of landfills. Incineration can be used to produce electricity and heat to provide power.

Some states and counties prefer incineration, while others have suspended services awaiting further safety information.

Autoclaving vs. Incineration

Selecting a disposal method is based on the type of waste you have collected. Incineration should be used for chemical waste and pharmaceutical waste. Autoclaving is best for “red bag” waste including sharps, personal protective equipment, gauze, and more.

All medical waste should be handling and disposed of with caution and care. Medical Waste Pros will help you properly collect and treat your materials to create a safer and healthier environment for everyone. 

Free Quotes on Sharps Disposal Near You

Contact Medical Waste Pros to learn more about your options for safe sharps and medical waste disposal near you. We offer HIPAA compliance training, mail-back services, and convenient drop off locations across the country. Fill out the form or give us a call at (888) 755-6370 to receive free quotes on our services today.