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Biohazardous and Medical Waste Overview

Learn how to identify and properly dispose of biohazardous and medical waste.

County and state laws strictly regulate the packaging and disposal of biological waste generated by research and patient care. Disposal procedures depend on whether the waste is classified as biohazardous or medical waste.

  • Biohazardous waste, also called infectious waste (such as blood, body fluids, and human cell lines), is waste contaminated with potentially infectious agents or other materials that are deemed a threat to public health or the environment.
  • Medical waste is waste generated in labs or clinical settings that is not contaminated, but could appear hazardous to outsiders.

Disposal methods

Contamination determines the disposal method:

  • Contaminated biohazard waste must be collected by a licensed biohazardous waste hauler.
  • Non-contaminated waste can be disposed of as medical waste.

See How to Package and Dispose of Biohazardous and Medical Waste for detailed disposal instructions.

Biohazardous waste

Biohazardous waste includes the following categories:

  • Sharps, including but not limited to hypodermic needles, blades, and slides. For more information on recognizing sharps, read How to Dispose of Sharps.
  • Dry biohazardous waste
    • Contaminated cultures, petri dishes, and other culture flasks
    • Infectious agents
    • Wastes from bacteria, viruses, spores, or live and attenuated vaccines
    • Waste contaminated with excretion, exudates, or secretations from infectious humans or animals
    • Paper towels, Kim wipes, bench paper, or any other items contaminated with biohazard materials
  • Liquid biohazardous waste
    • Human or animal blood
    • Human or animal blood elements
    • Human or animal bodily fluids or semi-liquid materials
  • Human anatomical specimens

Medical waste

Medical waste includes the following:

  • Non-contaminated cultures, petri dishes, and other culture flasks
  • Non-contaminated syringes (no needles!)
  • Decontaminated (i.e., autoclaved) dry biohazard waste
  • Empty specimen containers
  • Bandages or dressing containing dry blood or body fluids
  • Trace chemotherapy waste, including empty containers and IV tubing
  • Animal carcasses and body parts
  • Any material resulting from medical care that is not biohazardous
  • Any equipment used in a biomedical lab that could appear hazardous
Notice: Disposal of hazardous waste using sinks, intentional evaporation, or as regular trash is against the law. Campus laboratories must abide by strict state and federal waste disposal requirements. You may be held liable for violations of applicable laws.