Most states provide guidelines to define what belongs in a regulated medical waste sharps container.
Federal OSHA describes the discarding and containment of sharps in the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard where it states, “contaminated sharps shall be discarded immediately or as soon as feasible.”
What constitutes a sharp? According to OSHA’s Federal Standard a sharp means any contaminated object that can penetrate the skin, including but not limited to:
- Broken glass
- Broken capillary tubes
- Exposed ends of dental wires.
Other items of concern are cardio-catheter wires, disposable suture sets and biopsy forceps as well as electrocautery devices (tips only), according to the Standard.
Other items not listed above, such as cauterizers or batteries, and pharmaceuticals, should not be placed into a regulated medical waste container for sharps and in general should not be placed with the regulated medical waste overall. Additional sharps definitions may exist for states so be sure to check with your state regulations as well.
Pharmaceuticals: Not in a Sharps Container for Regulated Medical Waste
As a best management practice (and by regulation in some states), unused pharmaceuticals should not be disposed of in biohazardous waste or red bag waste. Biohazardous waste (regulated medical waste) is typically treated by autoclave prior to ultimate disposal. Any pharmaceuticals that might be present in such waste would not be affected by autoclaving and could still be present in wastewater that may be generated and discharged. See your state’s regulated medical waste authority for specifics on proper disposal of sharps and pharmaceutical waste.
Want to know more? Access a guidance document from the EPA that presents best management practices for unused pharmaceuticals at healthcare facilities.
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