02.04 Disposal of Waste

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  1. Disposal of Waste
    1. General medical waste
    2. Infectious medical waste
    3. Hazardous medical waste
    4. Radioactive medical waste

Nursing Points


  1. General medical waste
    1. Not considered hazardous
    2. Paper, plastic and office waste
    3. Can be disposed of regularly
  2. Infectious medical waste
    1. Used sharps
    2. Includes bodily fluids, swabs, used bandages
    3. Each state and facility have different rules
  3. Hazardous medical waste
    1. Dangerous waste, but not infectious
    2. Includes unused sharps
    3. Includes chemo medications, solvents
    4. Includes unused medication
  4. Radioactive waste
    1. Medications and products involved in radiation
    2. Require special containers
    3. Authorized and certified personnel to handle

Nursing Concepts

  1. Safety

Patient Education

  1. Educate patients on proper disposal of unused or expired medication at home.

Reference Links

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Video Transcript

In this lesson, we’ll look at how to properly dispose of waste.

I’m sorry guys, but this lesson isn’t going to be bells and whistles. In fact, it seems pretty boring when I say that we are going to talk about how you throw stuff away. But there’s a reason behind it. The last thing you want to do is to accidentally get stuck with a needle because either you or someone else didn’t take to heart waste disposal. It’s really about being safe and throwing stuff away where it needs to go so no one gets hurt.

When we look at waste, we’ll start with the least hazardous. We call this general medical waste. So things like paper and plastic can be thrown away regularly, like in a trash can or appropriate receptacle. And one other thing – don’t throw your trash away in the sharps container. It just makes it expensive trash because those containers cost a lot of money to process, and it keeps your from putting in needles and other sharps when you need to. Don’t fill them up with junk.

The next type of waste we’ll look at is called infectious medical waste. It’s probably the most common type of waste you’ll see. These are things like used sharps, bodily fluids, swabs, used and soiled bandages. Facilities have different rules, including state rules, that say how to handle infectious waste. The basic rule is, if it has bodily fluids on it, consider it infectious and follow those rules for disposing it. Typically they can go into a sharps container, or there will be another biohazard container available for you to use.

Key point here too – sharps go in the sharps container. Why? Because you don’t want to get stabbed by some needle that’s got some crazy virus or bacteria on it and then you get sick and you’re out of work because you’re sick. And all of the hard work you put in nursing school goes right down the toilet. So, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Next, we’ll take a look at hazardous medical waste.

Hazardous medical waste is dangerous waste, but not infectious. This includes things like unused sharps, chemotherapy agents and solvents. The other thing that’s included here is any unused medication. So wastes for like an unused dose of medication. But again, check with your state and facility regarding their policy for unused drugs.

Again, sharps go in the sharps container, which is either a red or yellow bin. Throw your sharps away in the sharps container!

Radioactive waste is not really common to experience, unless you’re in somewhere like an oncology unit, or a radiation area. However, you might see encounter this kind of waste with a patient who had an implant that becomes dislodged. Some patients treat diseases like cancer with radioactive implants, and they can rarely become dislodged (check out the lesson on radiation safety for a few more tips).

There will most likely be special containers for disposing of the implant and those containers are typically handled by personnel certified and authorized to dispose of it. When it doubt, find out where you need to place radioactive waste before touching it, and put on the right equipment.

Waste disposal is about safety, which is what we focused on today.
Ok, let’s recap:

Waste has a place! Don’t throw blood filled syringes in the trash – put them where they need to go.

Protect yourself by wearing the right PPE when you need to, like when you’re messing with chemo or irradiated implants.

SHARPS GO IN SHARPS! I’ll say it again for those in the back! Put the sharps in the sharps container!

When you don’t know where waste goes, ask. Your unit or facility might have a specific policy.
That’s all for this lesson on proper disposal of waste. Make sure you check out all the resources attached to this lesson. Now, go out and be your best selves today. And, as always, happy nursing!!

Read more

  • Question 1 of 7

The client has been given an IM injection. What is the proper way for the nurse to handle the needle for disposal?

  • Question 2 of 7

A home care nurse is working with a client who has been diagnosed with diabetes. The nurse is providing instructions to the client about how to dispose of used items that can puncture the skin. Which of the following describes a sharps disposal system that should be in this client’s home? Select all that apply.

  • Question 3 of 7

A nurse is changing a dressing on a client’s wound. When the soiled dressing is removed, it is saturated with blood. Which of the following best describes the most appropriate method of disposal?

  • Question 4 of 7

While working in the recovery room, a nurse is caring for a client who has a dressing that is wet with serosanguinous fluid. Choose the action that is most appropriate for this nurse to handle regulated waste.

  • Question 5 of 7

A nurse who works in a medical clinic comes into contact with client care materials and numerous other supplies and equipment that are used as part of client care. The nurse knows that biohazardous waste materials must be disposed of properly. Which of the following items would be considered a form of biohazardous waste? Select all that apply.

  • Question 6 of 7

A client who was recently diagnosed with diabetes and who requires exogenous insulin at home has asked the nurse about the best method of disposing of needles. The client tells the nurse, “I know I’m supposed to use those red containers to put my needles in, but I do not always have one.” Which response from the nurse is most appropriate?

  • Question 7 of 7

A patient tells the nurse that he has leftover medications at home that he doesn’t know what to do with. Which instructions should the nurse give this patient about proper disposal of medications? Select all that apply.

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