From Sharps to Biohazards: Understanding the Types of Medical Waste

From Sharps to Biohazards: Understanding the Types of Medical Waste

The first step in medical waste segregation, disposal, or management is to understand its types and their differences. Medical waste is an inevitable by-product of the medical industry that comes in various shapes and forms.

From sharps to biohazardous waste and from chemical to infectious waste, you need to educate yourself, your staff, and the general public about all of it. This will ensure your waste management efforts are a success while you handle other key patient care aspects of your healthcare facility.

Understanding the Types of Medical Waste

This blog will help you categorize every type of waste that you normally encounter in healthcare settings. With this information, you can ensure the medical waste produced in your facility is handled properly minimizing its harmful effects both for the general public and our environment.

Here is all you need to know about medical waste and its types

  • What is Medical Waste?
  • Where Does Medical Waste Come From?
  • Main Types of Medical Waste
  • Infectious Waste
  • Biohazardous Waste
  • Medical Sharps Waste
  • Pathological Waste
  • Pharmaceutical Waste
  • Chemical Waste
  • Cytotoxic Waste
  • Radioactive Waste
  • Trace Chemotherapy Waste 
  • General Medical Waste/Non-Hazardous Waste

What is Medical Waste?

The term medical waste encompasses general waste produced in any medical facility as well as specific waste streams typically found in the medical industry that can be potentially infectious and hazardous.

Any waste that is generated as a result of healthcare activities is referred to as medical waste. It can include things like disposable masks, laboratory materials, sharps, drugs, used dressings, surgically removed body parts, blood test samples, and much more. 

Where Does Medical Waste Come From?

Before you go ahead and take the steps for medical waste management in your facility, you need to know the sources of this type of waste.

Healthcare waste comes from any facility that is dedicated to patient care. Additionally, it is generated from every medical or biological activity or source.

Following is a list of medical waste-generating facilities

  • Physician Practices
  • Nursing Homes
  • Medical Research Labs
  • Hospitals
  • Dental Offices
  • Veterinary Practices
  • Mortuary and Autopsy Centers
  • Blood Banks and Collection services
  • Animal Research and Testing Labs

Main Types of Medical Waste

Following are a few main types of waste that most medical facilities generate on a daily basis

1. Infectious Waste:

As the name suggests, infectious waste is the one that can potentially spread infections to humans who come into contact with it. This type of waste needs special care when being handled.

The following are the main types of infectious waste

  • Swabs
  • Bandages
  • Anything with blood on it
  • Disposable medical supplies
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • IV Tubes
  • Body tissues
  • Excreta
  • Lab cultures

2. Biohazardous Waste:

This type of waste is contaminated with hazardous liquids or saturated blood. Infectious body fluids are also a part of it. This type of waste should never be mixed with regular medical waste. Exposure to biohazardous waste poses several risks including skin and eye irritation, breathing issues, and many other ailments.

Biohazardous Waste

This type of waste includes

  • Blood in tubing or syringes
  • Container for blood and body fluids
  • Blood-saturated dressings and pads
  • Biohazardous bags
  • Aerosol containers

3. Medical Sharps Waste:

This comprises disposable or regular medical devices with sharp edges or points that can cause injuries. Loose and contaminated sharps can cut you and spread infections. Make sure to always choose safe medical waste collection solutions for this type of waste. Always employ separate labelled containers to put the sharp waste.

Medical Sharps Waste

The following are the main types of sharp medical waste

  • Syringes and needles
  • Disposable scalpels and blades
  • Glass slides
  • Lancets
  • Autoinjectors
  • Staples
  • Ampules
  • Trocars

4. Pathological Waste:

This resembles infectious wastes in the sense that it can also carry infections and pathogens. More specifically it is waste with human or animal blood, bodily secretions, organs, tissues, or other body parts removed during surgery.

Pathological Waste

 Following are a few examples of this kind of waste

  • Blood or other bodily fluids
  • Contaminated animal carcasses
  • Tissues
  • Body parts

5. Pharmaceutical Waste:

This kind of waste deals with drugs and medicines used for the treatment of patients. It comprises used, unused, expired, or contaminated drugs.

Pharmaceutical Waste

This type of waste includes

  • Pills
  • Antibiotics
  • Injectables
  • Eye drops
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Half or dropped tablets
  • Partial tubes of ointments
  • Unused or expired Vaccines

6. Chemical Waste:

These are substances used in labs or hospitals for preparations and as disinfectants. It is any type of medical waste that is no longer of use or is expired.

It includes

  • Laboratory Reagents
  • Solvents
  • Disinfectants
  • Batteries
  • Heavy metals like mercury from broken thermometers

7. Cytotoxic Waste:

This is waste that has genotoxic (damaging to the DNA and causing cancer) features. This kind of waste is very hazardous and it should be handled with extreme care.

It includes

  • Carcinogenic or mutagenic medical waste
  • Cytotoxic drugs used for cancer treatment
  • Metabolites 

8. Radioactive Waste:

This is waste that comes from nuclear medicine imaging tests, radiotherapy, and PET scans. This is among the most dangerous medical wastes that can seriously damage your health if you are exposed to it for too long.

This type of waste includes

  • Glassware and supplies contaminated with radioactive material
  • Sharps used for radiation
  • Clothing and utensils 
  • Contaminated syringes or any other disposable material

9. Trace Chemotherapy Waste:

This waste comes from materials and medicines used for chemotherapy. Make sure to place this highly hazardous waste in a leak-proof and puncture-resistant container.

Trace Chemotherapy Waste

This waste can include anything that is used to prepare or administer chemotherapy medication.

Mainly it includes

  • Empty chemotherapy vials
  • Pads
  • Syringes
  • Gowns
  • Gloves
  • IV Bags
  • Tubing

10. General Medical Waste/Non-Hazardous Waste:

General, non-hazardous, or non-regulated medical waste is one that doesn’t pose any biological, chemical, or radioactive threats to your physical health or well-being.

General waste makes up the bulk of the waste that medical facilities produce. There is no need for special handling or disposal methods to manage this harmless type of waste.

It can include things like

  • Paper
  • Plastic
  • General office waste
  • Uncontaminated Gloves and gowns
  • Packaging and wrappers
  • Dressings with no blood or infectious elements


To protect both the healthcare workers and patients and to ensure that medical waste is disposed of properly, it is essential to educate the people involved about the types of medical waste.

Different types of medical waste need different disposal treatments so that it has minimum negative effects on our planet and the general public safety and health. This is only possible if you are able to categorize different types of medical waste accurately.

So, to properly segregate and handle waste in any medical facility make sure your staff is aware of these medical waste types. This will not only improve your healthcare service quality but also save you money that you spend on waste disposal.

Visit GlobalEX to get the best medical waste collection and removal services for any type of medical facility in Dubai.  

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