The disposal of clinical waste

Updated March 23, 2017

Clinical waste, commonly referred to as biohazardous waste, requires careful handling and proper disposal. Mistakes can cost lives and create infectious epidemics. Hospital, clinics, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient surgery centres, medical laboratories and biomedical research facilities must all take extreme care when handling clinical waste. This includes sharps such as hypodermic needles and medical instruments, bodily fluids, tissues, organs and cell and bacterial cultures. Clinicians, technicians and medical facility staff of all levels must understand proper handling and disposal procedures to dispose of the byproducts of treatment and research safely.

Place used hypodermic needles and other sharp instruments immediately into hard plastic sharps containers. Medical facilities usually have reinforced, puncture-proof sharps disposal bins in every examination and patient room. These usually have specially designed lids that ensure items go in but do not come back out. Be careful only to put instruments into the containers, not your fingers or hands. When you transport sharps containers either to your facility's autoclave or to hand off to an outside biohazard disposal service, place the sharps container in another hard container such as a bucket or larger bin as an extra protection against leaks and spills.

Pour all bodily fluids into specially designed hard plastic containers labelled "Biohazard." Most facilities give such containers bright colours, such as orange or red, to draw attention to them and usually affix the biohazard symbol to them. When carrying biohazard containers to your facility's laboratory for chemical decontamination or disposal via a sanitary sewer line, place them inside buckets or larger bins as an extra leak prevention measure.

Give all surgical tools and instruments used in an operation to your operating room or surgical technician who will count them and ensure the correct number is present. She should then bring them all immediately to the operating room sterile technician to autoclave for sanitation.

Put any solid bodily tissues or organs not going to a pathology lab into an already autoclaved plastic biohazard disposal bag. Every operating and procedure room should have these readily accessible. Usually, they are bright coloured and labelled. Once the tissue is in the bag, seal it and check to make sure the bag can safely carry the weight. Place the bag into a hard plastic biohazard bin or bucket as an extra safety precaution before carrying it to your facility's incinerator. Most hospitals incinerate on site although some laboratories without an incinerator seal the plastic containers and give them to outside disposal services.

Autoclave all laboratory items such as Petrie dishes, vials, flasks and forceps that come into contact with biological material. Specimens of human tissue or faeces should be taken to an incinerator, be it on or off site. See your facility's policy on incineration.

Use biohazard bags and containers for all animal tissues, fluids and waste, in the exact same manner as humans. Unless the facility deals only with animal research, animal clinical waste should be sealed and given to an appropriate outside waste disposal service. The best practice is never to mix animal and human clinical biological waste.


Every facility has a biohazardous waste plan. Yours will include specific locations to take wastes and will also specify who is in charge of incineration and other disposal tasks.

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About the Author

Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.