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FAQs About Infectious Waste

Read more about infectious waste, including rules, alternative treatment methods and other agency contacts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sharps-related

Do unused needles or needles that have not come into contact with a patient, for example, needles used only to puncture IV line ports or medicine vials, have to be treated as infectious waste?

Yes. Needles present an injury hazard to health-care personnel and waste workers. Therefore, they should be stored, transported and disposed of in the same manner as needles used in direct patient care.

How about "clean" syringes? Are syringes that have not been exposed to hazardous waste, nor have had needles attached to them, considered to be "sharps?"

No. ”Syringe” is defined in OAR 333-056-0020 as “an instrument for the injection of medicine or the withdrawal of body fluids that consists of a hollow barrel fitted with a plunger and a hollow needle.” Therefore, only syringes meeting this definition (i.e., with needle attached) are considered sharps. Non-sharps, i.e., syringes without needles attached, may be disposed of in a red biohazard bag (if housing blood or other biologic waste) or in the trash (if they are non-infectious).

Do slides and test tubes need to be stored, transported and disposed of as "sharps?"

Yes.

Is it acceptable to send sharps that have not been incinerated, autoclaved or otherwise treated by approved methods to a landfill for disposal?

Yes. The Environmental Quality Commission's rules allow for non-compacted sharps to be disposed in a landfill without prior treatment. The sharps must be contained in a leak-proof, rigid, puncture-resistant container which is tightly closed or lidded to prevent loss of contents.

Because sharps may be disposed of in a landfill, can they be discarded along with my regular garbage?

NO. Sharps need to be in segregated landfills and should NEVER be discarded with your regular garbage. For residents of Clackamas, Multnomah or Washington Counties, sharps containers may also be accepted at Metro transfer stations (Metro information on medical waste or sharps). Other resources can be found on the DEQ website.


Diapers, soiled linens, and materials saturated with infectious waste

Are diapers soiled with urine or feces considered "infectious waste"?

No.

Do linens soiled with blood or body fluids need to be treated as infectious waste?

No. Linens are reused and therefore do not enter the waste stream. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Although soiled linen may harbor large numbers of pathogenic microorganisms, the risk of actual disease transmission from soiled linen is negligible…common-sense hygienic practices for processing and storage of linen are recommended." (From www.cdc.gov/HAI/prevent/laundry.html):

Are disposable materials that are contaminated with blood or other body fluids considered to be "infectious waste"?

Material contaminated with blood or other body fluids are subject to the infectious waste law if and only if they are saturated with blood or other body fluids. "Saturated" means that the fluid will ooze or drip out with or without compaction. Blood-stained bandages, dressings and sanitary napkins are not considered hazardous waste.


Body parts

In some cases a patient may request that a body part (e.g., tonsils, gallstones) be given to them following removal. Is this permissible?

Yes. In this case, the body part that has been removed becomes the property of the patient; however, it SHOULD NOT enter the waste stream. Please contact DEQ’s Household Hazardous Waste Program (503-229-5696 or toll free in Oregon at 1-800-452-4011 or Oregon Metro (503-234-3000) for further information about disposal of body parts that have been taken home.


Thimerosal-containing vaccines

What is the best practice for disposing of thimerosal-containing vaccine vials?

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) considers the vials “empty” when they contain no more than 3% by weight of vaccine. Such “RCRA empty” vials may be disposed of in sharps containers. Vials containing more than 3% by weight of vaccine require a hazardous waste determination and proper RCRA disposal. Generally speaking, “non-RCRA empty” vials containing thimerosal need to be managed as hazardous waste. For businesses that are “conditionally exempt generators,” i.e., those creating less than 220 pounds of hazardous waste and less than 2.2 pounds of “acutely hazardous” waste per calendar month (see hazardous waste definitions), elemental mercury, mercury-containing compounds or mercury-containing devices can be safely disposed of at a permanent household hazardous waste (HHW) collection facility or at HHW collection events, which can be found at the DEQ website.


Discarding liquid or semi-liquid biological wastes into septic systems

The law specifies that liquid or soluble semi-solid biological wastes may be discharged into a sewage treatment system that provides secondary treatment of waste. Is it also permissible to discharge this type of waste into a septic tank system?

Yes.


Regulations and definitions

What are the basic provisions of infectious waste laws and regulations?

The law defines four basic kinds of infectious waste: pathological waste, biological waste, cultures and stocks, and sharps. See Oregon Revised Statue (ORS) 459.386 for definitions pertaining to ORS 459.386 through 459.405.

  • Pathological wastes, e.g., anatomical body parts, must be incinerated unless the Department of Environmental Quality determines that incineration is not reasonably available within a "wasteshed."
  • Biological wastes, e.g., blood and blood products or body fluids, must be incinerated, autoclaved or treated by other methods approved by the Oregon Health Authority. However, liquid or soluble semi-solid biological wastes may be discharged into 1) a sewage treatment system that provides secondary treatment or 2) a septic tank system.
  • Cultures and stocks include etiologic agents and associated biologicals including specimen cultures and dishes and devices used to transfer, inoculate and mix cultures, wastes from production of biologicals, sera and discarded live attenuated vaccines. "Cultures and stocks" do not include throat and urine cultures.
  • Sharps must be incinerated, autoclaved, or treated by other methods approved by the Oregon Health Authority. They may be taken without other treatment to a landfill in a rigid, puncture-resistant, leak-proof container, as long as the container is segregated from other waste, is transported without compaction, and is placed in a segregated area of the landfill. For residents of Clackamas, Multnomah or Washington counties, sharps containers may also be accepted at Metro transfer stations.
When did the infectious waste law become effective?

July 1, 1990.

To whom does the law apply? Are infectious waste generators that produce less than 50 pounds per month exempt from the law?

The law applies to all generators of infectious waste, from the person with diabetes living in a private residence to the physician’s office to the large metropolitan hospital. Generators who produce less than 50 pounds of infectious waste per calendar month are exempt from the following three specific portions of the law [section ORS 459.390 (5)(7) and (8)]:

(5) Compliance with storage time and temperature standards developed by the Oregon Health Authority.

(7) Compliance with the area of the law which states that secondary infectious waste containers be marked with the international biohazard symbol (Figure 1 below) and the words “Bio Medical Waste.” Exemption from the requirement does not mean, however, that the generator is exempt from segregating infectious waste from other types of waste, e.g., household waste.

biohazard symbol

Figure 1. Biohazard Symbol

(8) Compliance with the requirement that reusable containers be thoroughly washed and decontaminated each time the container is emptied.

Who regulates infectious waste disposal?

Three state agencies regulate various portions of the law: the Public Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Oregon Department of Transportation. You should familiarize yourself with the administrative rules of each of these agencies. Metro also regulates infectious waste disposal.

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