Kevin Noel

What Waste Goes in Red Bag Waste?

This blog post defines "red bag waste" or biohazardous waste in the healthcare industry. It provides examples of what should and should not be placed in red biohazard bags, as well as the significance of proper disposal in order to protect employees, maintain compliance, and save costs.

Red Bag Waste


Key Takeaways

Red bags are for non-sharps biohazard waste only. All waste streams should be properly segregated for medical waste compliance and to protect workers, the environment and public health from the hazards of regulated waste.

What Waste Goes in Red Bag Waste?

Biohazardous waste is often referred to as red bag waste within the healthcare industry.

It is important that only non-sharps biohazard waste is going into your red bags.

Since regulated medical waste costs significantly more to dispose of than regular waste, it would be very cost-ineffective to put anything into your red bags for disposal that is not biohazardous. A great step towards reducing the amount of regulated medical waste your facility generates is to ensure you are placing wastes into the correct container.

Regulated wastes  have strict guidelines for disposal and treatment due to their potential dangers to human health and the environment, so it is essential that they are handled and segregated properly.

What is Red Bag Waste?

Red Bag waste is the same as biohazardous waste. It is liquid or solid items that have been contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIMs).

Lining a biohazard bin with a red bag
Red Bag Waste Containers

What goes in red biohazard bags?

Some examples of red bag waste include:

Personal protective equipment that came into contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials such as gauze, gloves, gowns, bandages, dressing, or other materials

Blood and blood products including blood tubes, release blood, and empty vials

Body fluids that are visibly contaminated by blood such as urine, vomit, feces, vaginal secretions, pericardial fluid, cerebrospinal fluids, amniotic fluid, peritoneal fluids, synovial fluids, cerebrospinal fluid and more.

Sealed sharps containers that contain needles, scalpel blades, syringes, and other used sharps

Pathological specimens and microbiological wastes such as unfixed human tissue, organs, and animal parts (Segregated from other biohazard waste and labeled)

What Waste Should Not Go Into a Red Bag?

Between 75-85% of hospital waste is not hazardous and can go into the regular trash, recycling, or compost bin. Things like food wrappers, paper, paper towels, food scraps, and much more should not be mixed with your regulated medical wastes. Wastes such as pharmaceutical waste, chemotherapy waste, sharps waste, and hazardous waste have their own designated containers and should be segregated to properly dispose of.

Pharmaceutical Waste

Biohazard red bag waste and pharmaceutical waste pose different risks and require separate handling and treatment methods. Pharmaceutical waste must be incinerated and should be disposed of using blue and white containers. Properly segregating between the two is a crucial part of compliance and protecting the environment from contamination.

Chemotherapy Waste

Waste with trace amounts of chemotherapy drugs are dangerous to healthcare workers. By segregating red bag waste from chemotherapy waste, healthcare workers can minimize their risk of exposure to hazardous substances and ensure that they are handling and disposing of waste in a way that protects their health and safety. Medical waste containers are labeled by waste stream and labeling minimizes the risk of accident.

Sharps Waste

Sharps waste is biohazardous. However, sharps should not be placed directly into a red bag. Since sharps have the capability to pierce skin, they can also break through red bags. This poses a risk to waste handlers as they could suffer a needle injury as a result of loose needles or syringes inside of your red bags.

Needlestick injuries are a main transmitter of bloodborne pathogens, so it is crucial that your sharps go into an approved, sealed, and puncture proof container before being placed inside of your red bags and biohazard bins.

sharps container OSHA

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous wastes are classified by ignitability, corrosivity, toxicity, and reactivity. Hazardous waste must be clearly labeled and identified to ensure that it is easily recognized and not mixed with other waste types. Proper labeling helps workers take necessary handling precautions. Hazardous waste should be segregated from other types of waste to prevent chemical reactions, fires, or explosions. Mixing different types of hazardous waste or combining hazardous waste with non-hazardous waste can lead to unsafe conditions and potential environmental contamination.

Simple Waste Management Guidelines for Red Bag Waste

How to handle red bag waste:

✔ Dispose of biohazard wastes using red bags

✔ Ensure all sharps are in properly sealed and appropriate puncture proof sharps containers

✔ Line your biohazard bin with a DOT approved red bag

✔ Make sure your biohazard bin is properly labeled and its contents do not exceed 50 pounds

✔ Wear adequate personal protective equipment when handling biohazards

✔ Segregate all waste streams

✔ Train clinical staff appropriately

✔ Have a licensed medical waste disposal company service your medical facilities at a compliant frequency

Why is Proper Regulated Medical Waste Disposal Important?

Biohazard red bag waste has strict guidelines for disposal due to its potential dangers to health and the environment.

In order to protect employees and keep your regulated medical waste disposal costs affordable, it is essential to handle and segregate wastes appropriately within the healthcare industry.

Biohazards can be infectious and it is important to be aware of the dangers of contaminated items.

This is why you see the notorious “biohazard symbol” on every red bag and as a warning sign of biohazard containers and storage areas.

biohazard red bag waste warning symbol

It is important to note that regular trash and regulated medical waste are not disposed of in the same way and should not be mixed. Mixing them can lead to biohazards entering landfills and creating a safety hazard to the environment and waste workers.

Regulated medical wastes are first treated by being sterilized using microwave, autoclave, or incineration technologies - and misplacing your biohazards outside of the proper container poses a risk to the environment as that waste could enter a regular landfill before being decontaminated.

Unfortunately, it is very common that medical practices make classification mistakes. These mistakes can lead to inflated costs, hefty fines, injuries, and much more. 

It is crucial that all clinic staff are knowledgeable and can identify the medical waste types generated within their facilities.

Proper disposal is a necessity to protect staff, maintain compliance, and save money on waste management.

Red Bag Waste Requirements Vary

It is important to note that medical waste requirements vary depending on your state regulations. There are no clear cut rules that cover the entirety of the United States since most states have their own regulations regarding medical or biohazardous waste. Always consult your local regulations before taking any actions with biohazards or other potentially infectious materials within your healthcare facilities.

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