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How Do Hospitals Dispose of Medical Waste During a Pandemic?


COVID-19 is causing a massive increase in medical waste. Specific waste disposal and treatment methods are implemented to prevent further infection.

by soulfly_meegs soulfly_meegs (New)

Has 14 years experience.

Pandemic Medical Waste

How Do Hospitals Dispose of Medical Waste During a Pandemic?

Since March, the United States has had the highest number of COVID-19 patients in the world. There are over 5.6 million recorded cases in the country as of August 24. 

Nursing homes, food-manufacturing plants, and long-term care facilities are the most common places where people can contract the virus. Residents in these places need to take extra precautionary measures when interacting with others.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) and other sanitary products are among the items that can protect people from the virus. Massive amounts of PPE and clinical tools are disposed of each day due to stringent sanitary measures. The safe disposal of these types of waste is one of the biggest concerns of environmental and health departments today.

Treating waste from healthcare facilities is critical before disposing of it in landfills. The treatment process ensures that it would not be hazardous to the public and the environment.                                                                              

Medical waste management companies can help manage common discarding issues by adhering to state health and environment protection department’s regulations. Choosing the right service provider can help a healthcare center streamline their waste treatment and disposal processes.

The following are some things to keep in mind when disposing of waste from a medical facility during a pandemic.

The Proper Disposal Method

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no special disposal methods for PPEs and equipment used in COVID-19 treatment centers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also believes that COVID-19 waste should not have a different disposal method. Experts from these agencies state that contamination from medical waste does not necessarily mean an individual would instantly contract the virus. However, authorities have required more stringent disposal methods in healthcare facilities.  

Complying with OSHA’s control and prevention measures is one way to ensure the health and safety of workers in a healthcare facility. According to OSHA, medical centers must adhere to the following when dealing with waste containers:

  • Increase the number of waste bins in your facility.
  • All bins must be situated in safe and convenient areas.
  • All bins must be made to hold all contents and avoid leakage of fluids.
  • All bins must have an orange-red or light orange label with the biohazard symbol. 
  • All bins must have lids that should be closed during transport to treatment centers.   

In COVID-19 treatment centers, employers should provide personnel with the appropriate disposal bins, especially on the floors where COVID patients are getting treated. During the pandemic, employers should consider ordering waste bins of all sizes and types to avoid a shortage of disposal containers when the facility is at full capacity.

Each container should be properly labeled with what type of waste it can hold. For example, there should be containers for used PPE, syringes, testing kits, and other tools.     

Disclosure of Infected Patients’ Information

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule exists to protect the privacy of various types of protected health information (PHI) in the form of written or electronic medical records. PHI can also be different types of waste such as used syringes, specimen cups, empty IV bags, and more. 

In the context of COVID-19, the HIPAA Privacy Rule allows a medical facility or a covered entity to disclose the PHI of an individual who has been exposed or infected with the virus to public health authorities without the individual’s consent in certain situations. Professionals who adhere to this rule can have an organized process when handling COVID patients.   

For instance, a hospital could provide a list of people who have received treatment or have tested positive for the disease to an emergency medical service (EMS) dispatch. The EMS dispatch would be permitted to disclose the information on the list to the personnel in their facility. This helps the personnel prepare for necessary sanitary measures such as:

  • Changing to a new set of PPE 
  • Disposing of bins that are full of trash 
  • Checking if the bins’ lids and labels are in good condition
  • Disinfecting the equipment that comes in contact with COVID waste 
  • Checking the supply of sanitary products for patients and staff   

Sanitary measures can depend on hazardous waste programs or state environmental agencies. It is important that the personnel are aware of the measures to implement when disinfecting equipment and disposing of waste to prevent the infection or the spread of the virus.  

Various Treatment Plans

Before the waste is disposed of in landfills, it is treated using different processes based on its type. Some treatment methods include radiation, incineration, and chemical treatment. Incineration may be the most common way of disposing trash from hospitals, but it produces harmful gases that are released to the environment. Radiation and chemical treatment are safer and more sustainable methods, as these do not emit harmful gases. 

After the waste is treated, it is then compacted to reduce its volume. It transforms the trash into a smaller element for the disposal process. After compaction, it is brought to sanitary landfills. If it is in liquid form, it will be sent to an approved sanitary sewer system for additional treatment at a wastewater plant.     

Reducing the Impact of Waste

Since the pandemic started, the medical sector is one of the largest professional groups that contribute to pollution. Nurses are now resorting to more sustainable practices in their facility. They are almost involved in every clinical decision and interaction in a COVID-19 treatment center. So, it is suitable for them to propose sustainable practices and encourage other personnel to be more eco-friendly. 

Being proactive as a nurse will have long-term benefits for both the patients and the healthcare center. One thing that a nurse can propose to reduce the impact of waste is to develop a formal waste management plan. It should include a detailed procedure on the responsible management and disposal of waste from the medical facility.

It could also discuss the proper method to conduct a waste audit. Weekly spot checks to see if waste is being handled and disposed of correctly according to plan is vital for the entire facility to achieve its goals. The plan’s objectives and long-term goals should be shared with all personnel so that everyone works toward the same goal. The plan must be reviewed and edited whenever there are changes in the processes or state regulations.


Our World in Data

MedPro Disposal

United States Department of Labor

United States Environmental Protection Agency

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