Frequent Questions

Are there alternatives to incineration for treating and disposing of medical waste?

EPA’s Medical Waste Incinerator (MWI) standards and guidelines will affect the use of alternative technologies for treating medical waste. Because the new standards will be expensive to comply with, EPA estimates that few health care facilities are likely to install new MWIs and many facilities are likely to discontinue use of existing MWIs (we expect that 50% to 80% of the 2400 existing MWIs may be discontinued). Instead, facilities are likely to switch to other methods of waste disposal such as off-site commercial disposal or onsite disinfection technologies. here are many alternatives to incineration of this waste stream. 

Alternatives include thermal treatment, such as microwave technologies, steam sterilization, such as autoclaving, electropyrolysis and chemical mechanical systems, among others. EPA has jurisdiction over medical waste treatment technologies which claim to reduce the infectiousness of the waste (i.e. that claim any antimicrobial activity) by use of a chemical. This jurisdiction comes from the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Companies wishing to make such claims must register their product under FIFRA through EPA’s Regulating Antimicrobial Pesticides web site. Many states have regulations requiring medical waste treatment technologies to be certified, licensed, or regulated. Individual states have their own requirements. Many states refer to a document called, Technical Assistance Manual: State Regulatory Oversight of Medical Waste Treatment Technologies, developed by the State & Territorial Association on Alternative Treatment Technologies.

For more information, see the Medical Waste web site.

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