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Administration: Office of Environmental Health & Safety

Regulated Medical Waste

Regulated Medical Waste (RMW) became a public health issue when improperly disposed of materials washed up on the shores on New York and New Jersey beaches in the summer of 1988. In response, by November 1988 Congress enacted the federal Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA). The MWTA:

  • Defined medical waste and established which medical wastes would be subject to program regulations
  • Established a cradle-to-grave tracking system (similar to the tracking system for Hazardous Waste) utilizing a generator-initiated tracking form
  • Required management standards for segregation, packaging, labeling and marking, and storage of the medical waste
  • Established record keeping requirements and penalties that could be imposed for mismanagement

RMW is generated in a variety of settings: healthcare, nursing and medical education, laboratory, college and university. Waste that is truly infectious (defined as a potential source of transmissible disease) must be managed and disposed of as RMW.

In the early years after the MWTA, any waste material (gloves, bench liner, labware) that looked “medical” or “like it came from a lab” was managed/disposed of as RMW, whether or not it was actually used with or contaminated by infectious materials. Clearly unused medical devices (still in original packaging) and clearly fake medical items disposed of in the regular trash could bring regulatory action against the generator.

Most RMW is ultimately treated by incineration. The wide variety and large quantities of materials disposed of as RMW, which contains large amounts of plastics, contributed to hazardous materials in the air. As a result, the types of materials that must be managed/disposed of as RMW have since been re-categorized. The basic requirements of the MWTA are still in effect (now regulated at the State level). The New York State Department of Health defines RMW as:

  • Cultures and Stocks of agents infectious to humans, as well as waste materials and animal carcasses that are contaminated with infectious agents (Biosafety Levels II – IV
  • Human Pathological Wastes
  • Human Blood, Blood Products and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM)
  • Sharps (such as razor blades, scalpel blades, lancets and needles; contaminated or uncontaminated)

It is very important to manage only the materials listed above as RMW; lab materials and supplies that are not contaminated with infectious agents can be disposed of as regular trash. Do not collect non-infectious waste (i.e. trash) in Red Bags or gray RMW collection bins. Waste collected in this manner is now RMW. Please note that all sharps, no matter what they were used for, must be disposed of as RMW.

Regulated Medical Waste Links