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Key Methods of Medical Waste Treatment and Disposal

Mar 15, 2016


As a Maryland medical waste removal company, we frequently get questions from medical facilities about regulations and strategies regarding medical waste disposal. Many hospitals and laboratories have the resources to implement internal waste treatment processes to both reduce the volume of the medical waste in general and decontaminate certain infectious waste so that it can be disposed of as non-infectious. If you are in the process of evaluating the best options for your facility too, allow us to offer a quick overview of the main medical waste treatment and disposal methods.

On-Site Medical Waste Treatment


Thermal treatment is typically used for sharps and certain other types of infectious waste. An autoclave is in essence a large pressure cooker that uses high temperatures and steam to deeply penetrate all materials and kill any microorganisms. Depending on the type and amount of waste you will need to sterilize, you can purchase an appropriately-sized autoclave for your facility. These appliances range from 100 liters to 4,000+ liters in volume for bulk waste treatment.

Modern autoclaves are also automated to minimize human involvement and therefore reduce needle-stick injuries and contamination. Decontaminated sharps and other medical waste that’s been autoclaved can then be handed over to your Maryland medical waste removal vendor to be disposed of as non-infectious waste. However, keep in mind that such medical wastes as chemical waste, including chemotherapy waste, as well as pharmaceutical waste can’t be decontaminated in an autoclave.

Chemical Treatment

Often used to deactivate liquid waste, chemical treatment is designed to decontaminate or deactivate certain wastes on site rather than packaging and sending them to a separate facility. Since liquids are highly susceptible to spills, it’s typically best to have them treated as close to the generation site as possible. Chemical treatment can also be applied to some non-liquid infectious wastes, but they would typically need to be shredded first to ensure that all portions of the waste are exposed to the chemicals.

Depending on the type of waste, chemicals like chlorine, sodium hydroxide or calcium oxide can be used. However, these chemicals may often produce undesirable byproducts, as well as off-gas dangerous VOCs when applied. Chemical treatment has to be executed carefully and by knowledgeable staff. If you are not comfortable with on-site chemical treatment, an alternative is to use solidifying agents to turn liquids into solids and direct them to your medical waste removal vendor for disposal.

Microwave Treatment

A microwave treatment system, similar to an autoclave, also uses heat to decontaminate medical waste. These systems work best for waste that is not 100% dry or solid, as the moisture allows the heat to penetrate deeper, and the steam sterilizes. Therefore, before microwaving, most types of medical waste need to be shredded and mixed with water to achieve the desired effect. The bonus is that shredding reduces the volume of the waste, so it can later be land-filled.

Off-Site Medical Waste Disposal


Incineration is typically used (and often required by the state) for pathological and pharmaceutical waste. Incineration of medical waste should be preformed in a controlled facility to ensure complete combustion and minimize any negative effects for the environment. The great thing about incineration is that it kills 99% of microorganisms and leaves very minimal waste, if any.

Land Disposal

Land disposal is typically used for shredded, treated and decontaminated waste. In certain cases, it can also be used for hazardous waste or other untreated waste that can not be decontaminated by other means. Specialized sanitary landfill sites exit to reduce the risk of soil and water contamination and provide a safe space for medical waste disposal.

Of course, these are just the general medical waste treatment and disposal methods, and some types of waste may require specific disposal procedures we haven’t listed here. If you have any questions or need help ensuring OSHA or EPA compliance, give us a call or contact online!

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