There are five kinds of medical room waste: infectious/pathologic such as tissue and human tissue/body fluids, sharps, pharmaceuticals, radioactive and general. Hospitals use special containers for sharps and radioactive waste, and two kinds of disposal bags, clear bags for all noninfectious waste red bags for infectious or pathologic waste, which is extremely expensive to properly dispose of. In fact, hazardous waste amounts to only 4% of the volume of hospital waste, but eats up 52% of a hospital's waste disposal budget.
Makary and colleagues write that the problem is much worse than it has to be, because what usually happens is that an awful lot of general waste is misallocated into these red bags, making the volume of more expensively discarded waste that much greater.
"In fact as much as 90% of red bag waste does not meet criteria for red-bag waste," the authors write. If not visibly soiled, dripping or caked with blood or bodily fluids, the following items commonly put in red bags can instead be easily placed in clear bags: paper towels, vent tubing, suction tubes, intravenous bags, foley bags, foley catheters, batteries, masks, gowns, drapes, linens, casts and splints, packing materials, alcohol preps and wipes, dressing sand gauze, cotton, tapes, diapers and incontinence pads, bedpans, urinals and emesis basins.
Combined, hazardous and regulated medical waste make up only 24% of medical waste, but account for 86% of the costs. Yet, "an estimated 40% of regulated medical waste form operating rooms is packing material and another 40% is suction canister waste. Therefore, if the quantities of these two items were reduced, the volume of regulated medical waste could be decreased by more than 30%," the researchers say.