Medical Waste Disposal: Incineration Vs. Autoclaving

Medical Waste Disposal: Incineration Vs. Autoclaving

The proper disposal of medical waste is a multi-pronged issue that is regulated on both the state and federal level. You may be familiar with the bins, red bags, and other containers that house medical waste, but you may not be as familiar with what happens to that waste once it’s been placed in the receptacles.

There are two primary methods to deal with medical waste once it’s been disposed of in properly-labeled medical waste packaging: incineration and autoclaving. While both treat medical waste, the two are vastly different procedures. Each serve a different purpose, and whether to autoclave or incinerate is contingent on the type of medical waste that is being disposed of.

What is incineration?

A quick Google search will yield this common definition of incineration: “Incineration is a waste treatment process that involves the combustion of organic substances contained in waste materials.” Basically, medical waste is burned in a controlled manner in a dedicated incinerator.

Incineration comes with a few benefits, mostly that it reduces what goes into landfills, which can save municipalities on tax dollars. The waste is completely sterilized, the volume is reduced, and the waste is kept out of the physical environment.

Through Waste-to-Energy processes, incineration can be used to produce electricity and heat that can be used to power and heat nearby buildings.

What is autoclaving?

Autoclaving is a process that uses moist heat to sterilize various medical waste, from medical instruments, applicators, and other items that contain microorganisms. When medical waste is placed inside the autoclave, they are exposed to high temperature steam. The time varies based on the amount and physical size of the equipment that needs sterilization. This hot steam will kill germs that simple detergent or boiling water could not.

During the sterilizing process, steam is continuously entering the autoclave to thoroughly kill all dangerous microorganisms.

Autoclaving still has limitations. It does not take care of hazardous materials like chemical waste and pharmaceutical waste.

Incinerate or Autoclave?

As mentioned, incinerating or autoclaving will depend on the type of waste being disposed of. Incineration should be used for

  • Trace chemotherapy waste
  • Pathological waste, including body parts and other biological tissues
  • Some types of hazardous waste

Autoclaving is reserved for what’s known as “red bag” waste, including gauze, bandages, gowns, sharps, and other medical equipment.

Here at MedXwaste, 90 percent of our waste is autoclaved while the rest is incinerated.

We can help you and your facility develop a medical waste removal program that adheres to all state and federal laws and help you understand the process of medical waste disposal.

Call us today for your equipment and compliance needs.

Scroll to Top