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Handling Pharmaceutical Waste

Updated on May 28, 2013

Pharmaceutical Waste Sources

Doctor’s offices, hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities produce pharmaceutical waste, which falls into numerous categories making proper disposal complex. Different colored garbage bins, FDA approved bags for disposal and other supplies are needed for the task. The process takes a lot of work, but with time and effort, learning how to properly handle pharmaceutical waste can be done.

To begin, one must know what hazardous waste is. Hazardous waste, as defined by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), is any waste that may cause or contribute to an increase in mortality or a serious reversible or incapacitating reversible illness. Hazardous wastes are also described as those that can cause substantial harm to human health or the environment when improperly disposed of. According to the RCRA, there are four characteristics of hazardous waste and these are ignitability, corrosivity, toxicity, and reactivity. Hazardous wastes are broken down into four lists by the RCRA, P, U, K and F. When it comes to pharmaceuticals, the only lists that matter are P and U, which are for discarded commercial chemical products. Some examples of this type of waste include nicotine, warfarin and several other chemotherapeutic agents.

Proper Disposal Of Hazardous Waste

To properly dispose of hazardous waste, one must know how to identify it, segment it and then continue to manage these steps to ensure proper disposal. Many facilities use a color system with their garbage bins. Hazardous waste is typically thrown into black garbage containers, however this is not a regulation. Any color bin can be chosen. When choosing bins, consider assigning colors based on a common color of each type of waste. For example, if the majority of your hazardous waste is black, use a black garbage bin to make it easier for employees to follow a proper system.

Once you have a system of disposal down, you will also need to make sure that accurate labeling is being executed and that your hazardous waste shipping manifest is in line with regulations. Further, every 30 days P-listed waste will need to be weighed and documented.


Education is Paramount

Educating your employees is another crucial factor. They must know proper disposal practices and adhere to them in order to avoid accidents. For example, the red biohazard bags often seen at healthcare facilities may be confused as a proper disposal location for hazardous chemical waste when in this type of disposal container is actually for infectious, biohazardous waste. That type of waste is produced from something like autoclaving. After that process, the waste produced would be disposed of in an autoclave bag and placed in the receptacle for the appropriate waste type.

Proper disposal of pharmaceutical waste can get complex. To ensure your organization follows proper guidelines, be clear on what regulations are, create a plan and follow through by regularly checking for accuracy and effectiveness.


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