Hazardous waste containers and lids must be in good condition and chemically compatible with the waste inside the container. Waste containers must have securely fitting lids, preferably the original lid(s) for the container(s); do not use corks or stoppers. Laboratory beakers, flasks, or plastic milk cartons are not acceptable as waste containers. Metal containers are not acceptable unless they are the original container for the chemical waste being managed. Glass or plastic reagent bottles are generally the most convenient to use. Allow chemical reagents to react completely and/or cool to ambient temperature before accumulating as waste; once the reaction has completed and the reagents have cooled, pour the chemical reagent waste into a compatible container, and tightly close the lid. In some cases, a vented container lid should be employed to prevent gas build-up. For help in locating a vented lid for waste storage containers, Call EHS (919-962-5509) for assistance. Store glass waste containers in rubber safety carriers, buckets, or similar containers to protect against breakage and spillage. All waste containers holding 4 liters or less of liquid hazardous waste, and all glass containers of liquid hazardous waste stored on the floor, require secondary containment.

Liquid wastes may be accumulated in glass reagent bottles compatible with the waste. If you generate a large volume of liquid waste, consider 5-gallon carboys for solvent accumulation. Filled containers of liquids must have at least ten percent headspace (roughly 1.5 liters) to accommodate thermal expansion during transport and storage.

Solid wastes may go into a double-lined cardboard box. Liners must be 1.5 mil or greater polypropylene bags. Do not use biohazard or radiation waste bags for solid waste accumulation, regular, labeled trash bags are preferred. Tie and seal each bag individually.

Ethidium bromide/Acrylamide-containing solid and semi-solid waste (e.g. used gels) is also collected in double bags within cardboard boxes. Collect liquid ethidium bromide/acrylamide materials in carboys or bottles and manage accordingly.

Reactive chemicals must be disposed of in their original shipping containers, or in containers provided by EHS.

Figure 12.1
Three examples of unacceptable lids for hazardous waste containers.
Photos courtesy of University of Kentucky, Environmental Health and Safety.

Hydrofluoric acid presents a special hazard and must be stored in Teflon® containers or the original product containers. Refer to Chapter 6, Safe Handling of Toxic Materials, for more information about managing hydrofluoric acid waste.

Medical Waste (sometimes called biohazard waste) is defined as, “any solid waste that is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals, in research pertaining thereto, or in the production or testing of biologicals.” (Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988) Generators should place solid medical waste (other than sharps) in a container that is:

  • ≤ 15-gallons (57-L),
  • closable with a lid,
  • durable,
  • labeled with the universal biohazard symbol,
  • leak-proof,
  • lined with a plastic bag that is:
    • autoclavable
    • orange
    • labeled with universal biohazard symbol
  • a red colored container.

Figure 12-2
Left: Labeled red container with lid for accumulating biohazardous waste (other than regulated sharps).
Center: Biohazard bag outside of a hard-walled container, which is unacceptable.
Right: Infectious waste bag that was sealed, marked with heat-sensitive tape, and autoclaved.

Limit the use of orange plastic bags to medical waste that must be autoclaved before disposal or incinerated. All biohazard bags must be orange in color. Red bags should not be used or ordered. For autoclaving, label the bags with heat sensitive autoclave indicator tape in an X-pattern over the biohazard symbol, and secure the bag opening with indicator tape (Figure 12-2). Do not seal the bag tightly. This will allow more steam to enter the bag during the sterilization process. Do not use biohazard bags for radioactive or hazardous waste. Disposal contractors will return drums containing biohazard bags or any other labels indicating biohazard materials, and the landfill will reject waste that contains biohazard bags that have not clearly been marked with indicator tape as autoclaved.

North Carolina medical waste regulations stipulate that autoclaves used for the treatment of medical waste be tested at least weekly with a biological indicator. Do not confuse the chemical indicator tape with biological indicators. After autoclaving medical waste, place it in the barrels marked for AUTOCLAVED or DECONTAMINATED waste (Figure 12.3). Housekeeping will empty these barrels, but will not touch or move orange bagged waste from any other locations, whether it was autoclaved or not.

For procedures on biohazard waste disposal that are more specific, refer to UNC’s Biohazard Waste Policy.