Decontamination and Disposal

What is considered infectious waste?

According to the State of Wisconsin, the following items are presumed to be infectious waste.

    • All sharps- these include hypodermic needles, syringes with needles, scalpel blades, lancets, broken glass, rigid plastic vials, and laboratory slides.
    • Bulk blood or body fluids that are pourable or drippable amounts of blood or body fluids or items saturated with blood or body fluids.
    • Microbiological laboratory waste, such as cultures derived from clinical specimens and discarded laboratory equipment that has contacted cultures.
      • These include all microbiological agents and biological toxins.
    • Human tissue, including teeth but not hair or nails.
    • Tissue, bulk blood or body fluids from an animal carrying a zoonotic infectious agent such as rabies, anthrax or tuberculosis.

According to the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant and Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules, all rDNA/ synthetic nucleic acid molecules must be destroyed prior to disposal.

How do I decontaminate my biohazardous waste?

There are a variety of ways to decontaminate your waste. Contact the biosafety program office to discuss options and receive guidance. Biosafety protocols require an approved means of decontamination and disposal in accordance with all state and federal waste regulations.

Click here to view UWM’s autoclave guidelines poster


What if my biohazardous waste contains chemical hazards?

Do not autoclave or chemically decontaminate your waste if it contains chemical hazards! Chemical hazards always supercede biological hazards. Contact UWM Hazardous Waste to discuss your options for disposal.

How do I dispose of sharps contaminated with biohazardous materials?

All sharps-related regulated medical waste is handled by Madison Environmental Resourcing, Inc. (MERI). They process all sharps that cannot be autoclaved and disposed of in general trash, which includes needles, lancets (fingerstick devices), syringes, auto injectors, scalpel blades, pipettes, and discarded glass or rigid vials containing infectious agents.

To collect your sharps, use an approved needles container, fill to 2/3 full maximum (do not push down on waste to make space for more- risk of needlestick injury). When it is 2/3 full, contact the UWM Environmental Protection Program for pickup of the sharps container. They will coordinate the pickup with MERI. It is okay to use any hard-sided container that is puncture-resistant, as long as it is CLEARLY indicated on the container what it is used for and it is NOT overfilled.

All other broken glass that is not disposed of in medical sharps containers must be collected in a box lined with an autoclave bag, then autoclaved prior to disposal. Place the autoclaved sharps waste in a box and seal the box before moving to the dumpster for final disposal.

What can I throw in the general trash? 

Any waste generated that has not been contaminated in any way by biohazardous materials may be disposed of in the trash. For broken glass, maintain a broken glassware container that can be moved to general trash when full, such as a cardboard box lined with a trash bag that can be sealed.

Items usually not considered to be infectious waste under the State of Wisconsin Infectious Waste Regulations:

  • Items soiled or spotted, but not saturated, with human blood or body fluids, such as gloves, gowns, dressings, bandages, surgical drapes and feminine hygiene products.
  • Items containing non-infectious body fluids, such as diapers.
  • Containers, packaging, waste glass, laboratory equipment or other materials that have had no contact with blood, body fluids, clinical cultures or infectious agents.
  • Animal manure and bedding (except when contaminated with a chemical or biological hazard.
  • Tissue, blood or body fluids from animals not known to be carrying a zoonotic infectious agent.
  • Teeth that individuals take home from the dentist. Get more information on dental waste.

Who handles my trash from my laboratory?

It starts with you. Laboratories need to move their trash from their laboratory to the dumpsters. Do not rely on Environmental Services, this is your responsibility. Do not dispose of trash in the hallway. Walk it outside to the nearest dumpster to dispose of it using a secondary means of transport (such as a cart or a a wheeled garbage can). Remember that whatever you put in the trash other people may be potentially exposed to, so if it is not decontaminated properly you could put others at risk.

What if I spill my biohazardous materials?

Report all spills using the Initial Report of Biological Exposure or Release Event AND Near Misses form. Note we must report all rDNA and synthetic NA spills to the NIH. The only issue is if you don’t report the incident, so please make sure to report it within 24 hours of the event occurring.

Maintain a copy of your spill cleanup guidelines. The following is a downloadable and editable version of the general biohazardous spill guidelines for UWM: Recombinant DNA and Biohazardous Spill Guidelines for Research and Teaching Laboratories at UWM.