Safety Policies

SY29 Infectious Waste Disposal

Policy Status: 


Subject Matter Expert: 

Curt Speaker, 863-3905,

Policy Steward: 

Assistant Vice-President for Police and Public Safety / Director of Environmental Health and Safety



To establish a policy and procedures for the safe handling and proper disposal of infectious waste generated at all Penn State University locations (except the Hershey Medical Center).


The University is required by regulation 25 PA Code Chapters 271, 273,283 & 285 of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA-DEP) to ensure the proper handling and disposal of these wastes.


The definition of infectious waste contained in the regulations is as follows:

"...Municipal and residual waste which is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, immunization or autopsy of human beings or animals, in research pertaining thereto, in the preparation of human or animal remains for interment or cremation, or in the production or testing of biologicals, and which falls under one or more of the following categories:

  1. Cultures and stocks. Cultures and stocks of infectious agents and associated biologicals, including the following: cultures from medical and pathological laboratories; cultures and stocks of infectious agents from research and industrial laboratories; wastes from the production of biologicals; discarded live and attenuated vaccines except for residue in emptied containers; and the culture dishes, assemblies and devices used to conduct diagnostic tests or to transfer, inoculate and mix cultures.
  2. Pathological wastes. Human pathological wastes, including tissues, organs, body parts and body fluids that are removed during surgery, autopsy, other medical procedures or laboratory procedures. The term does not include hair, nails or extracted teeth.
  3. Human blood and body fluid waste and items contaminated with the same.
  4. Animal wastes. Contaminated animal carcasses, body parts, blood, blood products, secretions, excretions and bedding of animals that were known to have been exposed to zoonotic infectious agents or nonzoonotic human pathogens during research (including research in veterinary schools and hospitals), production of biologicals or testing of pharmaceuticals.
  5. Isolation wastes. Biological wastes and waste contaminated with blood, excretion, exudates or secretions from: A. Humans who are isolated to protect others from highly virulent diseases. B. Isolated animals known or suspected to be infected with highly virulent diseases.
  6. Used sharps. Sharps that have been in contact with infectious agents or that have been used in animal or human patient care or treatment, at medical, research or industrial laboratories, including hypodermic needles, syringes (with or without the attached needle), pasteur pipettes, scalpel blades, blood vials, needles with attached tubing, culture dishes, suture needles, slides, cover slips and other broken or unbroken glass or plasticware.

In summary, Infectious Waste is any laboratory-generated waste that is or may be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi, or other pathogen; OR any item that has been used in recombinant DNA work.

Organisms containing recombinant DNA molecules must be rendered incapable of reproduction (preferably by autoclaving) before disposal.


Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) is responsible for implementation, enforcement and coordination of the University’s Infectious Waste disposal program at the University Park campus. Directors of Business Services or their designees are responsible for coordination of the program at non-University Park locations.


  1. Segregation of infectious waste from all other types of waste.
  2. Use of specially labeled red or orange "biohazard" bags and puncture resistant "sharps" containers for the collection of all infectious waste.Rigid, one-piece polypropylene sharps containers (such as Becton-Dickinson) are preferred; metal cans are not permitted.
  3. Sterilization, by autoclaving, of all infectious waste. Allowable holding times for various infectious waste(s) are as follows:
    1. Infectious waste, excluding used sharps, may be stored at room temperature until the storage container is full, but for no longer than 30 days from the date waste was first put in the container.
    2. A storage container filled with infectious waste may be stored in a refrigeration unit for up to 30 days from the date waste was first placed in the container.
    3.  A storage container filled with infectious waste that has been filled within 30 days from the date waste was first placed in the container may be frozen immediately for up to 90 days from the date waste was first placed in the container.
    4. Sharps containers may be used until they are full. e. If the infectious waste becomes putrescent during the allowable storage period, the waste must be moved offsite within 24 hours for processing or disposal.
  4. Ensuring that all treated infectious waste, other than sharps, have been bagged in specially labeled red or orange "biohazard" bags. Bags should be purchased from approved vendors to ensure that they are free of heavy metal pigments. Any single bag of waste should weigh less than 20 pounds.
  5. Placement of all treated (i.e., autoclaved) infectious waste bags and sharps containers into specially labeled infectious waste receptacles provided by EHS at University Park. At non-University Park locations, the campus is responsible for waste receptacles; the vendor will provide boxes for final packaging of infectious waste.


Infectious waste that is mixed with radioactive waste or chemical waste requires special handling. Liquid infectious waste that contains radioactive material must be rendered biologically inactive before the Radiation Protection Office will accept it. This can be done by autoclaving or adding sufficient household bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite) to make up 10% of the total volume (i.e., 100 ml of bleach for each liter of liquid waste). Solid infectious waste containing radioactive material must be autoclaved prior to disposal.

Mixed infectious and chemical waste must also be rendered biologically inactive before disposal as hazardous chemical waste unless the generator can ensure that a denaturing environment exists in the chemical waste. Chemical compatibility must also be taken into account before adding bleach or any other chemical disinfectant.


Infectious waste be stored in a manner that:

  1. Maintains the integrity of the containers, prevents the leakage or release of waste from the containers, and provides protection from water, rain and wind.
  2. Prevents the spread of infectious agents.
  3. Maintains the waste in a nonputrescent state.

Storage containers must be:

  1. Leakproof
  2. Impervious to moisture
  3. Sufficient in strength to prevent puncturing, tearing or bursting during storage.

Sharps containers, in addition to the criteria listed above, must be:

  1. Rigid
  2. Tightly lidded
  3. Puncture resistant


Environmental Health and Safety will be responsible for the collection of waste receptacles, transportation of these materials, and for arranging for final disposal. EHS uses approved methods for the disposal of infectious waste. EHS is also responsible for implementation and enforcement of this policy.Normal infectious waste disposal costs are funded through EHS.


Collection and storage procedures for infectious waste are the same as at University Park. EH&S retains a licensed infectious waste transportation and disposal vendor to provide services for all University facilities. In general, this service is provided to the Campuses up to four times per year at no cost. Animal carcasses used for teaching purposes will also be disposed of through this vendor. Materials should be packaged as per procedures established by EHS and the vendor.


Agar - All agar plates with any microbial growth should be autoclaved, allowed to cool and resolidify, and then be disposed of in the white barrels.

Liquids - All tissue culture media and broth cultures should be autoclaved and poured down the drain when cool. Alternatively, sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) may be used. A sufficient amount of bleach should be added to bring the final concentration to 10% of the total volume(i.e., 10 mls bleach to 100 mls aqueous waste). The mixture is then incubated at room temperature for 1 hour and then may be poured down the drain.

Solids - Other laboratory waste such as plastic and glass pipettes, petri dishes (both plastic and glass), multiwell plates, tissue culture flasks, cuvettes, gloves and pipette tips should be collected in a biohazard bag, autoclaved, and placed into the white infectious waste barrels. All infectious waste must be contained in a biohazard bag before being placed into the infectious waste barrels. Loose items will not be accepted!

Sharps - ALL sharps (i.e., hypodermic needles, syringes, razor and scalpel blades) should be disposed of in a puncture-resistant sharps container. In addition to these items, all pasteur pipettes, broken glass and microscope slides which have been in contact with viable infectious materials should be disposed of in a sharps container, which should be autoclaved before disposal.

Gels - Polyacrylamide and agarose gels, including those stained with ethidium bromide should be placed into biohazard bags and put directly into the infectious waste barrel. They need not be autoclaved.


ALL plastic and glass labware, pipettes, pipette tips and gloves which have been used to transfer salt solutions, buffers and other non-infectious materials should be placed into the maroon "Disposable Lab Glass" cans distributed by the Office of Physical Plant. These items are not to be placed into biohazard bags. These cans are merely an alternative method for janitorial personnel to transport materials to the dumpster.

At the University Park campus, animal carcasses are disposed of through the Animal Resource Program, 865-1495.


For questions, additional detail, or to request changes to this policy, please contact the Office of the Director of Environmental Health and Safety.


Other Policies in this manual should also be referenced, especially the following:

SY01 -Environmental Health and Safety Policy

SY20 - Hazardous Waste Disposal

RP11 - Use of Biohazardous Materials in Research and Instruction

Effective Date: May 17, 2000

Date Approved: May 17, 2000

Date Published: May 19, 2000 (Editorial changes- March 23, 2016)

Most Recent Changes:

  • June 26, 2018 - Editorial changes.  In CROSS REFERENCES, updated link to Policy RP11, Use of Biohazardous Materials in Research and Instruction.

Revision History (and effective dates):

  • June 20, 2018 - Editorial changes.  Modified definition section to include organisms containing recombinant DNA molecules.
  • March 23, 2016 - Editorial changes. Clarification of animal carcass disposal information, in the NON-INFECTIOUS WASTE (UNIVERSITY PARK) section.
  • June 18, 2014 - Editorial changes. Addition of policy steward information, in the event that there are questions or requests for changes to the policy.
  • May 17, 2000 - New policy.

Date Approved: 

June 26, 2018