The increase in the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and its use during the COVID-19 pandemic has produced a rise in medical waste as institutions dispose of gowns, gloves, masks, face shields and shoe covers that have been exposed to the virus. “There definitely is more regulated medical waste being generated, and a lot of it is derived from PPE,” said Rudy Vingris, the health care business development manager at Waste Management Sustainability Services. The challenge, he noted, “is that there isn’t a national standard that applies across the board to determining what types of COVID-19–related PPE should be regulated as medical waste. It’s up to individual states.’
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the CDC released guidance specific to COVID-19 waste, which determined that the virus is a Category B infectious substance. This means PPE and other medical waste generated in the treatment of patients with COVID-19 can be managed in the same way as other waste related to Category B infectious substances, in contrast to the more hazardous Category A infectious waste generated in the management of diseases such as Ebola.
“This classification means that, unless the PPE is grossly contaminated with blood or bodily fluids to the extent it could lead to an infection, it is technically just trash and can go to the solid waste stream,” Vingris said.