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Household healthcare waste

Healthcare includes a diverse range of topics and materials and therefore generates a wide range of wastes. Once a healthcare material cannot or is no longer expected to be used for its intended purpose, it becomes a waste. Several categories of healthcare waste generated by households have management requirements beyond simply throwing the material in the trash. Several other categories do not have management requirements but do have best management practices to help household users identify the practical disposal option that best protects human health and the environment.

Household healthcare waste requiring special management

Medical sharps, such as needles, syringes and lancets, cannot be put in the trash, recycling or medication collection drop boxes.

Many types of clean, recyclable materials (paper, cardboard, plastic containers, aluminum, steel and bi-metal containers, glass containers and electronics) cannot be put in the trash.

Recommended Best Management Practices for Household Healthcare Waste

Safe disposal of household pharmaceuticals

The DNR recommends that household pharmaceuticals, including pet medications, be managed to protect public health and the environment.

Safe handling and disposal of mercury thermometers

mercury thermometer

If you have a household mercury thermometer, contact your local solid waste or streets department to ask when and where your next local household hazardous waste collection program will be held. In the meantime, store your thermometer in a rigid plastic container or a plastic bag, out of reach of children.

The DNR encourages local governments and businesses to collect mercury thermometers from the public and from schools. This will help minimize public health risks from broken thermometers and keep mercury out of the environment.

Manage chemotherapy waste carefully

Chemotherapy drugs may affect others living in your home while your body is getting rid of the drugs. Disposable items (such as gloves, adult diapers and sanitary pads) should be sealed in two plastic bags and put in the regular trash. Reusable items (such as clothes and linens that have body fluids on them) may be laundered in a washing machine but should be laundered separately from other clothes. Before washing, store these items in a plastic bag.

The American Cancer Society offers practical precautions for people who recovering at home after receiving chemotherapy treatments. Scroll down to “How can I protect myself and those I live with while I’m getting chemo?”

Household Healthcare Waste Managed as a Solid Waste

All household healthcare waste not requiring special management practices still needs to be properly disposed of as solid waste. You may bring waste directly to a local collection site, licensed transfer facility, landfill or contact a licensed solid waste hauler for collection.

For many household-generated healthcare wastes, the best solution is disposal through the traditional garbage/trash system already in use for your household. The DNR does not recommend additional treatment before landfill disposal for healthcare wastes if they do not “contain pathogens with sufficient virulence (harmful) and in a sufficient quantity that exposure of a susceptible human or animal to the solid waste could cause the human or animal to contract an infectious disease.” In short, if the healthcare waste could not transmit an infectious disease to a susceptible human or animal there are no additional requirements or recommendations for disposal.

The DNR has determined the following items should be managed as solid waste with no hazard to humans or animals:

  • items soiled with blood and body fluids (excluding urine) but not to the point where the blood or body fluids would drip or pour from the item;
  • items soiled with any amount of urine;
  • Intravenous tubing (with needles detached);
  • tissue, blood, body fluids or cultures from an animal that is not known to be carrying a disease that can be transferred from animals to humans (e.g. Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Brucella abortus (brucellosis), Chlamydia psittaci (psittacosis), Coxiella burnetii (Q fever), Lyssa virus (rabies), Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis);
  • animal manure and bedding; and
  • any packaging, containers, tools that have not had contact or that at the time of disposal do not contain sharps, human blood or body fluids (excluding urine) in dripable or pourable quantities, human tissue (excluding hair and nails), blood or body fluids (excluding urine) in dripable or pourable quantities from an animal known to be carrying a transferrable disease to humans).