All wastes are not created equal and it is important to understand the differences between medical waste and hazardous waste to be able to segregate them properly. According to reports, the US is responsible for producing a massive 220 million tons of waste a year.

Owing to this, both the government and environmental associations have created various methods of handling the problem through waste management. Have it in mind that waste management is genuinely a complex issue, and the type of waste will most often determine the process and when it should be disposed of, and in what manner.

Extensively understanding the different types of waste will help mitigate environmental risks as well as ensure the business or facility stays in compliance. Healthcare facilities are always expected to train their employees on the various types of waste, and the disposal methods of each type.

Difference Between Medical Waste and Hazardous Waste

Medical Waste

Medical waste is waste that is generated in a facility, lab, or clinical setting that is not contaminated but could have the appearance of being a hazard to others. Note that this may include but is not limited to any item or material that is used in a clinical or business environment that has either not been contaminated with infectious materials or has been decontaminated through approved methods.

Medical waste comes in several forms, including solid and liquid. Each category and subcategory of medical waste has specific protocols for handling, containment, storage, transport, and disposal. Unregulated medical waste in the United States can be treated as standard waste, meanwhile regulated medical waste (RMW) requires that the medical facility strictly adheres to the local, state, and federal guidelines for treatment and ultimate disposal.

How to Identify Medical Waste

Medical waste most often does not contain contaminated cultures. They tend to include empty containers, dry bandages, dried blood, or any other material that is not hazardous. The disposal of medical waste needs to be handled differently from regular garbage cans. Although the potential of creating airborne contaminants with medical waste may not be as high when compared to hazardous waste, you are still expected to treat the waste with care.

Examples of Medical Waste

Medical Waste may include 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 hazardous
  • Any equipment used in a biomedical lab that could appear hazardous

Hazardous Waste

This category of waste is quite broad but can be easily noted as any type of waste that poses both a substantial or potential risk to public health and the environment. These may include explosive waste, flammable liquids and solids, waste that is poisonous and toxic, and of course, infectious waste.

In the United States, once a material is no longer useful and is ready for disposal, it is very imperative to consider whether it can be safely and legally deposited in a dumpster for land-filling, flushed down the drain, or put aside as a hazardous waste for special disposal. It is also important you consult local and federal laws to note how to dispose of hazardous waste.

How to Identify Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste can be in dry form, liquid form, sharps, anatomical specimens or body parts, among others. Facilities that generate these sorts of wastes are expected to have biohazard containers primarily for these different objects, and those containers will also have to be clearly identified.

The containers will need to be set away from other waste disposal containers, to ensure that waste doesn’t accidentally get thrown into the wrong bin.

Examples of Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste includes the following categories:

  • Sharps: this may include but is not limited to hypodermic needles, blades, and slides.
  • Dry hazardous 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 secretions from infectious humans or animals
    • Paper towels, Kim wipes, bench paper, or any other items contaminated with biohazard materials
  • Liquid hazardous waste
    • Human or animal blood
    • Human or animal blood elements
    • Human or animal bodily fluids or semi-liquid materials
  • Human anatomical specimens
  • Animal carcasses and body parts if exposed to hazardous materials


County and state laws are known to strictly regulate the packaging and disposal of waste generated by research and patient care. The disposal procedures will depend on whether the waste is classified as hazardous or medical waste. As a waste producer, you are tasked with handling and disposing of this waste.

Failing to do so can result in severe harm to innocent people and cost you your business. Note that the best thing any waste producer can do is to work with a verified and reliable waste removal company. This company will ensure that you are provided with the containers you need and can guarantee both types of waste will be handled with the proper care.