Types of Waste

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When it comes to waste management for a hospital vs. other industries, there are a whole different set of challenges that hospitals face. One of the biggest challenges is being compliant with State and Federal Regulating Agencies such as OSHA and DOT. Many times State Laws define the regulations for how a hospital must handle and dispose of their regulated medical waste and hazardous waste. A hospital can typically generate up to 10-12 separate waste streams, which require multiple lines of vendors to handle each waste stream, will add to the various types of containers/equipment required to dispose of the waste, and will require hospitals to train their medical staff on proper handling of these waste streams.

It is critical that a hospital understands each of the waste streams that they generate and how they are responsible for the handling and disposal of these various waste streams. Enclosed are examples of the types of waste streams that the average hospital is required to manage on a daily basis.

Solid Waste

Municipal solid waste (MSW), consists 80% of waste generated in hospitals and is classified as Solid Waste. It predominantly includes food wastes, yard wastes, containers and product packaging, and other miscellaneous inorganic wastes from residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial sources. It’s important to ensure that the materials that have financial value are not discarded into the Solid Waste stream. MSW contracts for hospitals can be very expensive due to the service frequency, the weight involved, and equipment needed to dispose of this material.

The average cost to dispose of MSW in a hospital is approximately $250 – $300 per bed. The average 500 bed hospital will spend $150,000 annually on MSW contracts. Between 25-30% of MSW contains materials that could be recycled with the proper recycling program, which could equate to a $45,000 savings annually.




If the average 600-bed hospital could focus on recycling the blue wrap and polypropylene plastics in just the OR Departments that would average 14,000 – 17,000 lbs. per month (6.5 to 8.7 tons). This would equate to approximately $280 – $400 per month. By diverting these plastics from the solid waste stream it saves the facility $450 -$870 per month.

Regulated Medical Waste

Biohazard waste contributes to15% of an average hospitals waste stream and the average cost is about 20% higher than regular solid waste. It is important that hospitals segregate their waste into the correct waste streams to help drive down costs.

Listed below is a resource to review your States Medical Waste Regulations.

State-by-State Regulated Medical Waste Resource Locator


Hazardous Waste

Hazardous Waste is waste that poses substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment. (see Resource Conservation and Recovery Act)

Hazardous wastes fall into two major categories:

Hospitals are one of the largest generators of hazardous waste in the U.S. It is also important that your hospital staff is properly trained on how to handle and dispose of hazardous waste with regard to EPA regulations and the safety risks that are associated.

RCRA Pharmaceutical Waste

Modern hazardous waste regulations in the U.S. began with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (R.C.R.A.) which was enacted in 1976. The primary contribution of R.C.R.A. was to create a “cradle to grave” system of record keeping for hazardous wastes. Hazardous wastes must be tracked from the time they are generated until their final disposition.
All hospitals are responsible for their waste from the time it is generated, thru the transportation, incineration, to the point in which it is placed into a landfill. It is critical that your hospital considers the risks associated with state and federal regulations when choosing a waste vendor.


Sharps waste is a form of medical waste composed of used sharps, which includes any device or object used to puncture or lacerate the skin. Sharps waste is classified as biohazardous waste and must be carefully handled.

It is very important that a hospital implements a concrete sharps management program due to the risk and liability issues it presents for your employees and patients. Needle sticks incidents can cause a significant increase in your insurance premiums and could also pose headaches when working with JACO or OSHA.

A 1,000 bed hospital that incorporates a reusable sharp management system vs. a disposable system will save on average $175,000 annually. From an environmental perspective, this same hospital would divert an average of 34,000 lbs. of waste from landfills.

Document Destruction/Confidential Documents

By implementing the right document destruction program into your hospital could save you a substantial savings from a recycling perspective.

(Demolition Debris from Construction Projects)

Depending on the size of your hospital, construction waste can add up to a large part of your unfixed cost and have a significant impact on your operating budget. Again, it is important to understand what material is being discarded into this waste stream since a lot of these items have a recycling resale value.

Universal Waste

The EPA’s universal waste regulations have streamlined hazardous waste management standards for federally designated “universal wastes,” which include:

The most common and effective way to manage these types of wastes are thru mail back programs that many waste vendors provide to hospitals. It is important to do your research to determine the best cost benefit based on your specific needs.

Universal waste is the largest growing need in hospitals based on the volumes they generate and the regulatory requirements to properly dispose of them. These types of waste cannot be disposed of in your solid waste stream or placed in landfills. Your hospital runs the potential risk of hefty fines imposed by the EPA if you are caught placing these items in a landfill.