Decontamination and Disposal

Any materials that may contain pathogens or other biohazards must be decontaminated before they can be disposed in the general waste stream. All biohazardous materials should be collected in bags or containers affixed with a biohazard symbol. After decontamination, biohazard symbols must be defaced and/or covered prior to disposal in the general waste stream.

Biohazardous waste requiring decontamination

Infectious Waste

Infectious waste is defined by the State of Wisconsin DNR and includes the following:

  • Sharps, such as hypodermic needles, syringes with needles attached, scalpel blades, lancets, contaminated broken glass, contaminated broken rigid plastic, and contaminated laboratory slides
  • Bulk blood and body fluids: drippable or pourable quantities or saturated items
  • Human tissue: hard or soft tissue from humans, including teeth, but not including hair or nails
  • Microbiological laboratory waste: cultures derived from clinical specimens or laboratory equipment that has come into contact with clinical specimen cultures
  • Tissue, bulk blood, or body fluids from an animal which is carrying a zoonotic infectious agent

Other Biohazardous Waste

UWM considers additional materials to be biohazardous waste based on regulations and guidelines from the EPA, OSHA, and NIH. This includes any materials that contain:

  • Human pathogens
  • Exotic or virulent plant & animal pathogens
  • Recombinant (transgenic) organisms
  • Recombinant or synthetic nucleic acids that are capable of penetrating a cell membrane

Biohazardous Waste Procedures

All labs generating biohazardous waste must have an approved means of decontamination and disposal documented in their laboratory’s Biosafety Protocol. Contact the biosafety program office to discuss options and receive guidance.

The most common method for decontaminating solid Non-Sharps biohazardous waste is via autoclaving. Review the resources below for more information on proper biohazardous waste disposal and autoclaving procedures. Note that biohazard symbols must be defaced or covered before properly decontaminated waste can enter the general waste stream.

Lab Resources

Poster: Identifying Biohazardous Waste
Poster: Biohazardous Waste Disposal Guide
Poster: Complete Autoclave Guidelines
Poster: Autoclave Waste Disposal Process
Template: Autoclave Log


What if my biohazardous waste contains chemical hazards?

Chemical hazards always supersede biological hazards. Do not autoclave biohazardous waste that is mixed with chemical hazards. Contact the UWM Environmental Protection Program to discuss your options for disposal.

How do I dispose of medical sharps, like needles, blades, or lancets?

Medical sharps waste requires special handling because it must be both decontaminated and rendered broken and unable to be reused. This is done by an external contractor via incineration, grinding, and/or shredding. All sharps waste generated at UWM is handled by Madison Environmental Resourcing, Inc (MERI).

Always collect sharps in an approved sharps container. When the container is no more than 3/4 full, contact the UWM Environmental Protection Program for pickup of the sharps container. UWM Environmental Protection personnel will coordinate with MERI for final pickup and disposal of the waste.

How do I dispose of other sharps, like contaminated broken glass, contaminated rigid broken plastic, or contaminated slides & cover slips?

Whenever possible, dispose of these items as medical sharps (see above) to reduce injury that can result from increased handling of these materials.

If disposal in a sharps container for pickup by MERI is not possible, use the following precautions to decontaminate and dispose of these items in a manner that prevents harm:

  1. Collect the items in a hard-sided container. Ensure that the container used for collection can also be used for decontamination such that materials do not need to be handled prior to decontaminating. For example, use an autoclave-safe container if materials will be decontaminated by autoclaving.
  2. Decontaminate the materials by autoclaving or by appropriate use of a chemical disinfectant. Autoclaving is preferred.
  3. After materials have been decontaminated, close the container and label as “broken glass and plastic” before disposal in the general waste stream.

What types of biological lab waste can I throw in the general trash?

Waste generated in biological laboratories that has not been contaminated with or come into contact with any biohazardous materials may be disposed of in the general trash. However, always remember to consider other hazards associated with your waste that may require special disposal, such as chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or broken glass.

In general, items that are not considered to be infectious waste may include:

  • Items soiled but not saturated with human blood or body fluids
  • Body fluids that are generally not considered to be infectious, such as urine, mucus, sweat, saliva, or tears
  • Tissue, blood, body fluids, or cultures from animals that are not known to be carrying or infected with a zoonotic infectious agent
  • Containers, packages, waste glass, lab equipment, and other materials that have had no contact with blood, body fluids, clinical cultures, or infectious agents
  • Formerly infectious waste after it has been properly treated

Where should I dispose of the trash from my laboratory after it is decontaminated?

Labs are responsible for moving the waste from their labs to the appropriate dumpsters outside of their buildings. Never dispose of laboratory waste in hallway trash cans. Safely transport your waste using a cart or wheeled garbage can to the nearest dumpster for disposal on a regular basis to avoid waste buildup that can lead to lab contamination or nuisance odors.

What if I spill my biohazardous materials?

Report all biohazardous material spills using the Initial Report of Biological Exposure or Release Event AND Near Misses form. Prompt reporting to state or federal agencies may be required depending on the nature of the spill, so ensure that a report is submitted as soon as possible and within 24 hours.

All labs that work with biohazardous materials must maintain standard procedures for spill cleanup. These procedures should be visibly posted inside the lab. The UWM Institutional Biosafety Committee has created and approved general biohazardous spill guidelines for UWM. Your lab may use these guidelines and/or alter them as needed based on your specific materials and procedures.

Recombinant DNA and Biohazardous Spill Guidelines for Research and Teaching Laboratories at UWM

Quick Links

Autoclave Log Template
Hazardous Waste & Surplus Chemicals Pickup Request
UWM Environmental Protection Program Biohazardous Waste Disposal Guide
UWM Environmental Protection Program Sharps Waste Disposal Guide
Training: Hazardous Waste Generator, Hazardous Materials Shipping, Spills
UWM Biosafety Training
Biosafety Inspections