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Are medications a medical waste?
It may be surprising, but NO, medications are NOT a medical waste under the waste regulations. This is a common misconception since both are generated as a result of medical treatment. Medical waste includes materials that may present an infection hazard to humans through several routes of exposure. Medical waste includes items like:
- absorbents materials (gauze, dressings, etc.) soaked or saturated with blood or body fluids (other than feces, urine, or saliva) that may release medical waste through handling, and
- sharps (needles, scalpels, and lancets).
Medications do not generally present an infection hazard. Medications, drugs, or pharmaceuticals are chemical formulations designed to treat, diagnose, and prevent disease. Often medication contain toxic formulations, and many are designed to persist in water. Medications are regulated very differently than medical waste, and under separate regulations designed to protect both human health and our natural resources, namely drinking water. In Michigan, most medical waste is treated using a device called an autoclave, under heat and pressure, to remove the infection hazard. Then the treated waste is landfilled. Many medications are required to be incinerated, and EGLE encourages all medications be incinerated where possible, so that the chemical formulations in the medications are destroyed and unable to cycle in our environment. For more information on what is subject to medical waste regulation, see the Medical Waste Directory and go to Michigan.gov/EGLEMedWaste. For more information about how medications are regulated in healthcare or where they can be disposed, see the Handling Pharmaceuticals and their Containers and go to Michigan.gov/EGLEDrugDisposal.
I use needles at home for self-injection as part of my diabetic treatment. How can I dispose of my used needles?
EGLE publications, "The Point is... Needles Hurt!" and “Medical Waste and Recycling” provide tips and guidance regarding the accumulation and disposal of home-generated needles. EGLE’s Drug Takeback Map and Michigan Recycling Directory both provide details on locations in Michigan that collect unwanted needles and lancets, also called sharps, from resident for proper disposal. To learn how to locate only sharps collections using the Drug Takeback Map, watch this short map overview video.
How do medical providers have to manage their medical waste?
In Michigan, commercial facilities that generate medical waste, such as doctor's offices, hospitals, health clinics, dental offices, funeral homes, and tattoo parlors, are subject to Michigan's Medical Waste Regulatory Act (Part 138 of Michigan's Public Health Code, Public Act 368 of 1978, as amended [Act 368]) and its administrative rules. Under the medical waste regulations, medical waste producers must follow strict regulations governing how medical waste must be accumulated, stored, treated, and disposed. The transport is regulated under United States Department of Transportation (US DOT) regulations implemented by Michigan State Police. Michigan has over 15,000 registered medical waste producers. The registration process helps EGLE ensure compliance, provide administrative oversight, and respond to incidents involving improper handling or disposal of medical waste. In addition to registration, each medical waste producer must:
- Have a site-specific medical waste management plan that lists/describes the type(s) of medical waste generated at the facility and methods of packaging, treating, and disposing of the waste.
- Send their medical waste to a permitted medical waste incinerator, a permitted autoclave, or facility approved by EGLE to perform an alternative treatment method at least every 90 days
- Retain records to verify the medical waste is shipped every ninety days from when the waste was first added to each medical waste container.
- Retain records of employee training on how to handle medical waste at the facility, in accordance the facility's medical waste management plan.
- Use containers that are compatible with the waste; spill, leak, and puncture-proof; kept closed except when adding waste to container; are US DOT compliant; and labeled with the biohazard symbol.
Wastewaters from medical procedures cannot be discharged to an on-site septic system. For more information on Michigan's management standards for medical waste, see the Medical Waste FAQ, Dental Office Wastewater FAQ, Funeral Home FAQ, and go to Michigan.gov/EGLEMedWaste.