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Characteristics of Healthcare Waste

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Healthcare waste is generally waste generated from healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinical laboratories, small clinics, and pharmaceutical shops.

Healthcare waste is divided into two; non-hazardous waste does not have any significant risk of causing infections and makes up 75-90% of healthcare waste. On the other hand, hazardous wastes have a high risk of causing infections and other health problems. Potentially hazardous waste can make up about 10 to 25% of healthcare waste.

Characteristics of Healthcare Waste

The characteristics of healthcare waste are dependent on many factors. These include the type of waste and the source of the waste.

Sources of Healthcare Waste

The major sources of healthcare waste include:
•    Hospitals
•    Laboratories
•    Clinics
•    Mortuaries
•    Research centers
•    Nursing homes
•    Blood banks
Other minor sources include;
•    Paramedic and ambulance services
•    Psychiatric hospitals
•    Chiropractors
•    Cosmetic piercing
•    Tattooing centers
•    Funeral service centers

The source of the waste determines the amount of healthcare waste that is generated at that source. Hospitals generate the largest amount of healthcare waste, with funeral homes and police stations generating the least healthcare waste.

Categories of Healthcare Waste

Categories of healthcare waste also help to characterize healthcare waste. Healthcare waste categories include:
•    Infectious and Pathological Waste- These are wastes that are contaminated with blood and bodily fluids. The wastes may include gloves, masks, bandages, cotton, and dressings contaminated by bodily fluids.
•    Pharmaceutical and Chemical Waste- These are wastes like spent disinfectants, broken thermometers, split medicines, and blood pressure gauges.
•    Non-hazardous or General Waste- These are wastes that are less risky and are included in general waste. They include non-bloody bags, uncontaminated masks, gloves, empty saline bottles, food scraps, and non-bloody diapers.
•    Sharps- These are needles, syringes, blades, scalpels, and other surgical tools.


Each category of healthcare waste consists of waste with different characteristics. In conclusion, the characteristics of healthcare waste depend on where the waste was generated from and the category in which the waste falls. Hospitals generate the largest amount of healthcare waste such as sharps, infectious waste, and chemical waste compared to other healthcare facilities.