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A Guide to Classifying Medical Waste in an Office Setting

While hospitals and large-scale healthcare facilities are responsible for the vast majority of medical waste produced in the U.S. each year, it’s an issue smaller clinics and doctor’s offices must deal with as well. From cosmetic surgery offices to veterinary offices, it’s important for all physician’s offices to be aware of state guidelines and regulations that dictate how medical waste is to be dealt with.

One of the biggest areas to learn first is how waste is classified since this will determine how it should be handled and disposed of. Below are some of the relevant guidelines offices of all size should know when it comes to categorizing medical waste.

Infectious Waste

While a doctor’s office may not produce all types of medical waste, infectious waste is commonly dealt with in clinical settings. The World Health Organization describes infectious waste as being anything that has blood or bodily fluids. This can also include cultures and stocks used during lab work, and patient waste, including bandages, swabs and medical devices that are disposable.

Under the Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988, infectious waste is essentially viewed as anything that could include tissue or fluids, so the definition is broad.

Pathological Waste

Pathological waste contains things like human and animal tissues, organs and body parts. In a veterinary setting it can include entire animal carcasses.


Sharps are an incredibly common form of medical waste produced daily at the majority of medical clinics and doctor’s office. Sharps can mean needles, syringes and also blades and scalpels that are disposable. Sharps have to be disposed of very carefully because they can cause cuts or injuries that could lead to infections.


If a doctor’s office or clinic also has a pharmacy or dispenses medicine of any kind, they not only have to adhere to standards for dealing with the above forms of medical waste, but they also have to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals. According to the WHO, pharmaceutical waste includes anything that’s expired, unused or contaminated. It also refers to not just drugs but also vaccines.

Genotoxic waste

This classification is exclusive to the WHO’s guidelines, and it relates to waste that’s “highly hazardous” or carcinogenic. One example of this would be certain drugs used in the treatment of cancer.

The above represent the WHO’s waste classification. These categories also include radioactive waste, as well as non-hazardous or general waste, which can include anything that doesn’t pose a threat to public health.

Some other organizations, like the CDC, also have other groupings, such as Isolation Wastes, which include biological and discarded materials that could be contaminated by fluids or secretions from humans or animals that are isolated as the result of a contagious disease.

Training Employees on Waste Categories

Whether you’re a small doctor’s office or a large multi-doctor clinic, it’s critical to train all of your employees on the above classifications, even if they aren’t part of your staff that works directly with patients. By training employees in your doctor or clinic office on waste classifications, you can make sure everything goes smoothly and there no potentially hazardous situations that arise.