Home Medical Waste Disposal: What Every Patient And Their Family Should Know

Advancements in medical care has made it possible for many people who are ill or recovering from an injury or surgical procedure to recover in the comfort of their own home. In many cases, visiting nurses and other medical personnel handle care needs such as giving injections and changing wound dressings, while in some cases, the patient or family member may be the one responsible for handling these needs. Just like in a hospital setting, medical waste generated in the home must be carefully managed to prevent contamination or injury to the patient’s family members, as well as potential issues incurred by garbage collection and landfill workers who may come in contact with it during the disposal process.  

What is Medical Waste? 

According to the Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988, medical waste consists of solid waste materials that result from the diagnosis or treatment of humans and animals, including immunizations of humans and animals involved in the testing or production of biological functions. Medical waste is commonly associated with the following sources: 

  • blood and items that have come into contact with blood, such as dressings, bandages, surgical gloves, instruments, medical sharps, hypodermic needles, discarded sutures and lancets
  • bodily tissue, such as skin, scabs, bodily organs or body parts
  • used swabs, trays and other items that may have come into contact with saliva or bodily fluids
  • culture dishes, glassware, tubes, catheters and other items used in medical care procedures

How Should Medical Waste Be Handled in the Home Environment?

The disposal of medical waste generated in both medical care facilities and the home are regulated by the state in which you live. Although each state may have differing guidelines, many of the basic policies are similar, such as securely containing the waste and preventing it from coming in contact with other humans or animals. In rural areas, medical waste generated in the home may be able to be incinerated if no metals or glass is included and it is not prohibited by state or local ordinances.  

Medical waste that contains metal or glass, such as needles, lancets and medical instruments are not suitable for incineration. Instead, these items should be confined in a sturdy, covered container that will prevent them from coming into contact with anyone in the home, as well as sanitation workers after the waste is taken from the home. Your local waste removal company can help you locate suitable containers for home medical waste and offer you tips on using them safely.  

If an unexpected medical issue prevents you from locating an approved medical waste container before the waste is generated, consider using a hard plastic bottle, such as a bleach bottle, or a rigid plastic box to safely hold sharp items, such as needles and lancets, until they can be disposed of properly.

Larger items that have been exposed to potentially infectious blood or bodily fluids should be places inside heavy trash bags and sealed securely. Make sure that you wear gloves and remain alert for sharp items when working with any type of medical waste. Store the filled bags in an area where they will not be accessible to pets who might tear into them and contact your garbage company or a local medical waste disposal facility for further instructions.

What Should You Do If Exposed to Medical Waste? 

If you are exposed to medical waste through contact with your mucous membranes or an open sore or broken area of your skin, it is important that you take proper steps to alleviate your risk of becoming ill. Clean the area thoroughly with soap and water, apply a disinfectant and seek medical care immediately. Your doctor may advise you to take additional precautionary measures, such as vaccinations, testing and observation to ensure that you remain healthy.