Pharmaceutical Waste: A Healthcare Facility Manager’s Guide

Pharmaceutical Waste: A Healthcare Facility Manager’s Guide


As the person in charge of waste at a medical facility or pharmacy you keep your facility productive, clean, efficient, and on budget. Health care facilities generate a lot of waste. It’s essential that your employees know how to properly handle and dispose of it to keep everyone safe and to stay in compliance. Pharmaceutical waste, medications that are expired, damaged, left over in vials or syringes, or just no longer needed must be handled and disposed of properly under Washington’s Dangerous Waste Regulations. So what is dangerous waste? You may have heard it called hazardous waste which is a term the federal government uses. It’s waste that’s potentially harmful to our health and the environment. In Washington, we use the term dangerous waste to include federal hazardous wastes and other wastes that are highly toxic or persistent. Meaning, they stick around in the environment for a long time. We realize you have other regulations to follow for biohazard and controlled substance wastes. Some pharmaceutical dangerous waste is also a biohazard or controlled substance. You need to identify or “designate” all of your pharmaceutical wastes to determine if they are dangerous waste. And then, you need to dispose of them properly. In this video, we’ll show you how to separate your dangerous pharmaceutical wastes so you can keep your facility in compliance. You are responsible for training staff to properly separate, manage, and collect pharmaceutical waste at your facility. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians, janitorial staff… anyone who deals with the waste or the paperwork related to it. You may have to work to overcome old habits and previous misinformation Care providers are busy. When it’s time to dispose of a half-used syringe of medication they may not have time to search for a pharmaceutical waste bin. They might throw a syringe with medication into a red sharps container, or squirt leftover medication down the drain. That’s illegal for dangerous waste. Make it easy for your staff so they can stay focused on patient care. Provide clearly labeled waste bins in every area where pharmaceuticals are discarded. These could include containers for sharps, pharmaceutical dangerous waste, and soiled linens. Each of these bins should be in good condition and compatible with their contents. To reduce the number of dangerous waste disposal mistakes, educate staff so they know what goes in each bin. Reiterate that no medication should be put into the red sharps container or biohazard bags, no medication can be discharged into dirty linens, and no medication can be put down the drain or in the trash. In other words, to help folks remember: No meds in the red. No meds in the bed. Don’t dump drugs down the drain
or toss them in the trash. Pay careful attention to how wastes are collected and moved around in your facility. You may need to train janitorial staff on proper collection procedures. They should take care not to nest pharmaceutical waste containers inside of other containers during collection. Keep pharmaceutical waste separate from other types of waste. Educate staff from the beginning so that waste handling requirements are integrated into the regular procedures. We have another video to help you train your workers. If you need more help to set up a proper training program for your staff. please call us! If your dangerous waste isn’t disposed of properly, you’re in violation of the regulations. You may get a penalty and have to face an embarrassing and expensive cleanup. If you can’t put pharmaceutical dangerous waste in the trash or sewer, where does it go? Pharmaceutical dangerous waste must go to a permitted disposal facility. Work with a reputable hazardous waste service provider with a good compliance record Waste service providers can help you with things like choosing the right bins, labeling, assigning waste codes, and disposal. But the waste your facility generates is your waste. From the moment it’s created to the time it’s destroyed, it belongs to you. Even when it’s picked up by a service provider, you are still responsible for the waste. Depending on how much waste your facility generates you may have multiple disposal options. We recommend incinerating pharmaceutical waste at an appropriate facility because it’s the only way to ensure it will be completely destroyed. Once destroyed, it’s no longer a liability. Talk to your waste service provider about your options and you can call us to check the rules. Your service provider will give you records to keep at your facility to prove your waste has been properly disposed of. Keep these on file so you’re ready in case an inspector asks to see them. Some smaller clinics and long-term care facilities have unique challenges. Patients may enter your care with their own set of prescriptions, or your patients might bring in their own medications, with your staff helping to administer them. Once a patient begins care at your facility, you need to plan to properly dispose of those medications. When they’re no longer needed, they become part of your facility’s business waste. Some companies sell locking containers for collecting controlled substance waste to render it non-retrievable. Watch out for claims that it’s okay to dispose of pharmaceutical waste containers in the trash. These containers don’t destroy the chemicals.
They’re still in there! And trash goes to a landfill, which does not have the technology to filter out pharmaceuticals or treat them. Putting pharmaceutical dangerous waste in the trash is improper disposal and could land you a costly penalty. Containers of dangerous waste must go to a permitted facility for proper disposal or destruction. Keep in mind, if you mix dangerous waste
with any other substance, whether it’s a chemical, coffee grounds, or kitty litter you now have more dangerous waste,
which makes disposal more expensive. Don’t mix dangerous waste. Dual waste is pharmaceutical waste that has also come in contact with bodily fluids. There are multiple ways to manage this type of waste. Contact us for help understanding the options. Regulations are complex and systems for collecting pharmaceutical waste will look different from location to location. But here are some best practices. It’s a good idea to have a list of all the pharmaceuticals used at your facility. Your formulary should include the
drug name, generic name, uses, possible doses, and other information you want to track. You’ll need to determine which drugs in your formulary are dangerous waste. This process includes assigning waste codes, which help ensure your waste is properly managed and disposed. We can provide a list of common waste codes to get you started. A self auditing process or checklist might help you identify areas where your facility is having problems segregating and managing pharmaceutical wastes. Is proper pharmaceutical waste management included in the required training? Visit each room or department where pharmaceuticals are used or stored and make sure each one has a clear place to dispose of pharmaceutical waste. Take a look at any waste accumulation areas. Make sure pharmaceutical waste is separated and clearly labeled. Periodically, check sharps containers or other medical wastes to see if pharmaceuticals were improperly sorted. This allows you and your staff to verify that waste streams aren’t going to the wrong place. The job of properly disposing pharmaceutical waste is a big responsibility. You want your facility to be the best it can be. Remember, it’s your responsibility to make sure staff are following the rules for pharmaceutical waste. No meds in the red. No meds in the bed. Don’t dump drugs down the drain, or toss them in the trash. By developing a program, policies, and procedures for pharmaceutical waste management at your health care facility, you are not only keeping your workplace safe, you are also helping to ensure our environment is clean and healthy for generations to come. Find more information on our website (ecology.wa.gov) and search for pharmaceutical waste to find guidance. Give us a call! We can help explain our dangerous waste rules for your facility. We know it’s complicated.
We want to help.

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