Medical Waste Disposal

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Regulatory | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Waste generated in oral health settings is usually broken down into different categories, such as: office waste or common refuse; recyclable waste; hazardous waste, which includes lead aprons and electronics; universal waste, which includes batteries and light bulbs; and medical waste, either infectious or non-infectious.

Regulated medical waste (RMW) is generally maintained to be waste generated within a healthcare setting that may be contaminated by blood, bodily fluids, or other potentially infectious material (OPIM). RMW is maintained and processed separately from non-contaminated waste because it presents a higher risk of possible transmission of disease or a possible higher risk of side effects than waste produced by non-medical facilities.

The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard has numerous requirements regarding the handling and disposal of certain types of wastes generated at healthcare facilities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Most Frequently Asked Questions Concerning the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard details information on how medical waste should be handled and what to do if someone is exposed to medical waste. See the ADA Tip Sheet on Medical Waste Disposal which is included as a Resource in this module for more information.

Staff in some dental practices may wonder what to do about extracted teeth: can they be returned to patients who ask for them? Are they considered medical waste? CDC has a Q&A on Extracted Teeth which provides information of what to do in both instances. See the ADA Tip Sheet on Medical Waste Disposal for more information.

Dental offices should have written policies and practices to minimize occupational exposure to dental personnel. Dental personnel must have training as part of new employee on boarding to minimize exposure risks before being exposed to RMW. Ongoing training of dental personnel should occur at least annually or when procedures or staff duties require it.

Regulated medical waste in dental healthcare settings should have policies and procedures for safe handling of RMW during segregation, storage, packaging, disposal, transportation, and record keeping system.

Management of RMW should be assigned to an individual who will follow federal, state and local RMW requirements to reduce the risk of disease transmission. The assigned individual will advise staff and provide training in the safe handling of RMW and provide accessible containers for the RMW. The appropriate containers should be provided, for easy accessibility, maintained, replaced, stored and logged for disposal.

The Healthcare Environmental Resource Center (HERC), which is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Compliance Assistance Centers program, provides compliance assistance and information for the healthcare industry for specific jurisdictions. EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) establishes a system governing hazardous waste from its generation to its disposal. The Hazardous Waste State Locator is an easy-to-use resource for finding your state’s regulations, contact information, and other helpful resources. Other resources available through HERC include an Occupational Safety and Health Resource Locator, which features an interactive map to locate regulations, contacts and dental office resources in your state, and a State-by-State Regulated Medical Waste Resource Locator tool with an interactive map to help you locate regulations, contacts and dental office resources, including the EPA, available in your state.