What Is Biohazard Waste? Examples and Disposal Guide

Scott Swearingen / Waste Management / February 27, 2023

The waste industry is complex and offers businesses a myriad of challenges when attempting to find the most reliable service providers and affordable rates. However, when working with biohazard waste, things get even more complicated.

Biohazard waste has its own specific set of regulations and rules, which can vary based on the type and level of waste. The proper disposal of this type of waste, also known as infectious waste, is critical due to its potentially harmful effects on public health. When waste has been contaminated with infectious, or potentially infectious agents, it’s vital to ensure this waste doesn’t accidentally end up where someone may come in contact with it.

Whether you’re responsible for organizing the proper removal of biohazardous material at a hospital, research center, veterinary clinic, university laboratory, or any other facility that produces biohazard waste, you know firsthand how complicated the industry can be. So keep reading for our quick and easy guide on biohazard waste, and stay tuned for some tips on saving money on proper disposal at the end!

What Is Biohazard Waste?

Biohazard waste — also known as biohazardous waste, infectious waste, biological waste, or medical waste — is waste that contains or is contaminated with biological materials that pose a risk to public health and the environment. Some obvious examples are bodily fluid and used sharps. However, there are less evident items considered biohazard waste, such as any items contaminated by excretions of infectious humans.

While these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between biohazard waste and medical waste. For example, any trash that comes from a medical facility may be deemed medical waste, even if there are no specific biohazard materials. This type of waste may or may not be biohazardous and therefore considered regulated medical waste.

Examples of Biohazardous Waste

Those who work in facilities producing this biohazardous material must be able to identify it to guarantee it is disposed of properly. Remember, materials that can infect humans or the environment are considered biohazardous waste. To get a clearer idea of what biohazard waste is, we can take a look at some examples.

  • Infectious waste: Any waste materials contaminated with microorganisms that cause diseases in humans, animals, or plants can be considered infectious waste. This typically includes a broad range of items from blood, bodily fluid, and cultures to any waste that has been potentially contaminated with infectious diseases, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • Human pathological waste: Human pathological waste refers to human body parts, such as tissue and organs, that were removed during surgeries or as part of a biopsy.
  • Animal waste: This includes waste materials from animal carcasses, body parts, and bedding from animal facilities. Interestingly, animal waste can be considered a biohazardous material if the animal has been infected with, or inoculated against, pathogenic microorganisms harmful to humans.
  • Laboratory waste: Also referred to as microbiological waste, this type of waste includes materials generated from laboratory experiments, such as culture dishes, Petri plates, and test tubes contaminated with biological materials.
  • Medical waste: This includes waste materials generated from healthcare facilities that have not been contaminated with biohazardous agents. While these materials may not require the same level of disposal as other biohazard materials, they should also not be thrown in with regular trash.

The Levels of Biohazardous Waste in Biological Labs

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) breaks down biohazardous materials used in biological labs into four levels. These levels are essential for proper disposal. However, they also indicate proper laboratory practices, safety equipment, and containment controls necessary. The levels rank from biosafety level (BSL) one through four, determined based on the level of risk posed by the waste to public health and the environment.

BSL-1: Low-Risk Microbes

The CDC’s lowest Biosafety level is BSL-1 and covers microbes that generally don’t present a major hazard or cause disease in healthy adults. For example, a nonpathogenic strain of E. Coli is considered BSL-1.

BSL 2: Moderate Risk

The next level is BSL-2, which covers moderate health hazards such as pathogenic or infectious microbes that are associated with various human diseases. HIV is a common example of agents considered to be BSL-2.

BSL-3: Serious Risk

Working with microbes that can cause severe and potentially fatal diseases through inhalation alone, such as tuberculosis, is considered BSL-3. As a result, these materials often face strict government controls and regulations to ensure safe practices.

BSL-4: Extremely High Risk

Labs working with extremely dangerous pathogens or microbes such as Ebola fall under the highest BSL-4 category. There are only a few in the United States and the world. However, they’re essential for protecting the human population against extremely deadly diseases. These facilities are often in isolated or highly restricted areas.

By understanding these levels of biohazard materials, you’ll know what safety or health hazards they present, how to handle them properly, what protective equipment is essential, and how to dispose of them properly.

How to Dispose of Biohazardous Waste

After reading about the different levels and examples of biohazardous waste, it should be pretty clear that how you dispose of such items is very important. That’s why it’s essential that laboratories, hospitals, and other facilities that produce biohazard waste work with reputable waste management companies to ensure proper disposal. Licensed vendors will collect waste and then use an approved sterilization method. However, before collection, the waste must be properly collected and stored for transport.

Different types of biohazard waste require specific processes before removal from the facility.

  • Sharps: This category includes strings and other sharp medical instruments (contaminated or not), such as lancets and scalpels. They must be collected in labeled, rigid containers that don’t allow leaks or punctures or the retrieval of sharps.
  • Solid biohazardous waste: Other non-sharp solid waste items that have been contaminated must be collected in an autoclavable bag inside a labeled, leakproof container with a lid. Examples include gloves and other PPE, culture plates, sample containers, and more.
  • Liquid biohazardous waste: Liquids such as blood, bodily fluids, or other blood products must be stored in leakproof, rigid containers that cannot be opened or tipped over. The container should be properly labeled with a biohazard symbol as well.
  • Tissue: Animal or human tissue, such as organs and bones, should be collected in sealable plastic bags that are securely closed and properly labeled with a biohazard symbol.

A biohazard waste disposal company typically handles the treatment and disposal of biohazardous waste. Working with a reputable company is essential to ensure that all biohazardous material is properly treated or disposed of. Depending on the type of materials and level of biohazard risk, one of the following methods may be utilized:

  • Autoclaving: This method is the most common, and it uses high-pressure steam to sterilize and kill any microorganisms present in the waste. Autoclaving is typically used for waste items such as laboratory culture dishes, Petri plates, and other items that can withstand high heat and pressure. Afterward, the waste is disposed of in a landfill or waste-to-energy facility.
  • Incineration: Another common method uses high heat to burn the waste, reducing it to ash. Incineration isn’t as common as it once was but is still used for pathological waste such as tissues or body parts. Some must be separated for proper destruction.
  • Chemical: This method uses chemicals such as chlorine to neutralize microorganisms present in the waste. Chemical disinfection is typically used for chemical waste, such as lab chemicals, medical chemicals found in IV bags, and cleaners and disinfectants.
  • Microwaving: Some waste can be shredded and mixed with water in order to use irradiation sterilization using microwave technology. The biological elements are neutralized during microwaving.

Where to Find Savings in Biohazard Waste Removal

Because of the high level of regulations and responsibility for biohazardous waste removal, this area can cost significantly more than regular waste removal services. However, there is always room to find savings.

The first step that hospitals and other facilities should take when attempting to lower biohazardous material removal costs is attempting to reduce the total waste generated. They can do this by ensuring there is no improper disposal of regular items into biohazardous waste containers.

Another way to lower costs is to examine contracts and audit invoices with waste removal companies. Unfortunately, vendors often misclassify waste into categories that come with higher charges. Institutions with high levels of biohazardous waste are less likely to notice when waste is mislabeled in this manner.

The best way to combat errors and overcharges on your invoice is by working with a third-party company such as P3 Cost Analysts, who will check invoices each month to ensure you’re getting the lowest possible and correct rates on your waste removal services. In addition, we can help you renegotiate contracts or find a waste removal vendor that is better suited to your needs.

Get Lower Biohazard Removal Rates

P3 Cost Analysts has experienced staff that has worked in the waste removal industry for decades. Certain intricacies are involved with waste removal pricing and contracts that only get more complicated with biohazard waste. Through our waste management auditing services, we’ll make sure that you’re paying as little as possible for these necessary services.

Plus, you’ve got nothing to lose. Our services come with no upfront costs, and you don’t pay anything until after we find your savings. Contact one of our experts today to help make sure that you’re not overpaying for biohazardous waste removal!

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