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Healthcare facility waste overview

Healthcare facilities such as hospitals, physician's offices, dental practices, nursing homes, veterinary hospitals and others may generate hazardous waste, infectious (red bag) waste, solid waste, recyclable materials, universal waste, chemotherapy waste and radioactive waste. Each of these waste types is subject to certain rules requiring the waste be managed and disposed of properly. Different types of waste should be separated and managed accordingly.

It is your facility's responsibility to properly identify and manage all the types of waste you generate.

Physicians, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, laboratory technicians, pharmacy staff, maintenance staff and IT support staff can all generate waste. All employees who generate waste are responsible for its proper management and disposal. One or more employees -- such as the owner; environmental health and safety specialist or department manager -- may be responsible for developing waste handling and disposal procedures at the healthcare facility.

Environmental and health concerns

Products used in the healthcare industry, such as chemotherapy drugs, pharmaceuticals, disinfectants and sterilants can harm the environment and human health if they are not disposed of properly. For many years, flushing excess amounts of chemicals down the drain has been a common practice.

However, recent studies indicate that some of these chemicals are passing through wastewater treatment systems and entering our waterways, which may serve as drinking water supplies for many communities. Some fish and aquatic life now have detectable levels of hormones, antibiotics, antidepressants and other chemicals in their bodies. These organisms are also showing signs of being sterile or "feminized" – i.e. males having female biological characteristics. Some of these chemicals are classified as human mutagens, carcinogens or teratogens. These recent findings indicate that in addition to safely handling these products in the workplace, healthcare staff must properly manage these wastes to minimize the potential impacts to human health and the environment.

Improper waste management

The consequences of not complying with environmental rules can be substantial. Mismanagement of wastes can cause environmental contamination, increase the risks to waste haulers and landfill operators through dermal contact with harmful substances, inhalation hazards, explosions and fires, and expose sewer maintenance employees to noxious gases or explosive mixtures.

Individuals or businesses causing environmental contamination are responsible for the cost of cleanup and other remedial activities. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can take enforcement action when businesses do not properly manage their wastes. Civil enforcement penalties for noncompliance may range from $10 to $25,000 per day per violation, depending on the type of waste mismanaged and the seriousness of the violation. That means that violating one requirement for three days, such as keeping containers of hazardous waste closed, could result in a penalty ranging from $30 to $75,000. The DNR and U.S. EPA can also seek criminal penalties for intentional hazardous waste violations.

Additional information

DNR publications

Related websites