Safety Policies

SY29 Infectious Waste Disposal

Policy Status: 


Subject Matter Expert: 

Diann Stedman, 814-865-6547,

Policy Steward: 

Director of Environmental Health and Safety



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



The University is required by regulation 25 PA Code Chapters 271, 273, 283, 284, and 285 of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA-DEP) to ensure the proper handling and disposal of these wastes. Additionally, Penn State follows the handling and disposal requirements of the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules (NIH Guidelines).



Definition of Regulated Medical Waste

The definition of regulated medical 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Human blood and body fluid waste and items contaminated with the same.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, regulated medical waste is any waste that is or may be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi, or other pathogens; OR any item that has been used in recombinant DNA work.

Definition of storage containers for Regulated Medical Waste

  1. All containers used for the storage of regulated medical waste must be:
  • Leakproof
  • Impervious to moisture
  • Sufficient in strength to prevent puncturing, tearing, or bursting during storage.
  1. All bags used for the storage of regulated medical waste must be red, red-orange, or orange “biohazard” bags. Bags must be free of heavy metal pigments.
  2. All containers used for the storage of sharps contaminated with regulated medical waste must be red, red-orange, or orange biohazard sharps containers. They must be rigid and puncture proof with a tightly secured lid.
  3. All containers used for the storage of regulated medical waste fluids shall be in containers that are break resistant and tightly lidded or stoppered.

Definition of storage conditions for Regulated Medical Waste

  1. Regulated medical waste must be stored in a manner that:
  • Maintains the integrity of the containers, prevents the leakage or release of waste from the containers, and provides protection from water, rain, and wind.
  • Prevents the spread of infectious agents.
  • Maintains the waste in a nonputrescent state.
  • If the regulated medical waste becomes putrescent during the allowable storage period, the waste must be moved offsite within 24 hours for processing or disposal.
  1. Allowable holding times for various regulated medical waste(s) are as follows:
  • Regulated medical waste, excluding used sharps, may be stored for no longer than 30 days from the date the storage container is full or sealed.
  • Sharps containers may be stored until they are full.



The Office of Physical Plant (OPP), with technical assistance from Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), is responsible for implementation, enforcement, and coordination of the University’s Regulated Medical Waste Disposal program at the University Park campus. Directors of Business Services or their designees are responsible for coordination of this program at all other University locations.



Persons who generate regulated medical waste are responsible for

  1. Segregation of regulated medical waste from all other types of waste.
  2. Use of specially labeled red or orange "biohazard" bags. Bags must be labeled with name of the lab’s PI and have a piece of autoclave tape or other indicator that the material has been sterilized. Bags must be free of heavy metal pigments.
  3. Use of puncture resistant red or orange biohazard labeled "sharps" containers for sharps contaminated with regulated medical waste. Sharps containers must be rigid and puncture proof with a tightly secured lid. Metal cans are not permitted. Sharps containers must be labeled with name of the lab’s PI and have a piece of autoclave tape on it as an indicator that it has been sterilized.
  4. Sterilization of all regulated medical waste. Solid regulated medical waste must be autoclaved. Liquid regulated medical waste may be treated with household bleach (enough to make up 10% of the total volume) for 1 hour and then poured down the drain. These methods are also generally acceptable for rendering recombinant DNA incapable of reproducing.
  5. Work units that generate regulated medical waste that are not capable of sterilizing waste on site, or sterilizing by bleaching or autoclaving, will be approved on a case by case basis by EHS. This includes waste that is incompatible with bleach.
  6. Any single bag of waste or sharps container must weigh less than 20 pounds. Exceptions shall be on a case by case basis decided by EHS.
  7. Placement of all treated (i.e., autoclaved) regulated medical waste bags and sharps containers into specially labeled infectious collection containers provided by OPP at University Park. At non-University Park locations, the campus is responsible for collection containers; the vendor will provide boxes for final packaging of regulated medical waste.
  8. Ensure individual collection containers, such as white barrels, weigh less than 50 pounds and not be overflowing.


Office of Physical Plant is responsible for

  1. At University Park, OPP is responsible for the collection of collection containers, transportation of these materials, and for arranging for final disposal.
  2. The University uses approved methods for the disposal of regulated medical waste.


Environmental Health and Safety is responsible for

  1. Implementation and enforcement of this policy. 
  2. Normal regulated medical waste disposal costs are funded through EHS.
  3. EHS can approve direct collection by an approved third party vendor.
  4. EHS retains licensed regulated medical waste transportation and disposal vendors to provide services for all University facilities.


Non-University Park Locations are responsible for

  1. Collection and storage procedures for regulated medical waste are the same as at University Park.
  2. EHS retains licensed regulated medical waste transportation and disposal vendors to provide services for all University facilities. In general, this service is provided as needed at no cost.
  3. Animal carcasses used for teaching purposes will also be disposed of through this vendor.
  4. Materials must be packaged as per procedures established by EHS and the vendor.



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



Other Policies that must also be referenced, especially the following:


SY01 -Environmental Health and Safety Policy

SY20 - Hazardous Waste Disposal

SY43 – Laboratory and Research Safety Plan

RP11 - Use of Biohazardous Materials in Research and Instruction


Most Recent Changes:

  • January 13, 2023 - Editorial change to update Subject Matter Expert and Policy Steward.
  • February 12, 2020 – Numerous editorial changes to reflect impending OPP takeover of program in 2020.  Removal of procedural issues for clarity


Revision History (and effective dates):

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

February 12, 2020

Date Published: 

February 12, 2020

Effective Date: 

February 12, 2020