Since NIH shut down its incinerators last spring, medical path-ological waste (MPW) disposal has become a growing -- and expensive -- problem. Currently, scientists and others generating MPW package the waste in the MPW "burn box," which is then handled as infectious waste -- even if the items inside are not contaminated. Every day, NIH transports an average of 719 boxes of MPW, weighing about 5 metric tons, to a private waste incinerator for disposal at a cost of more than $500 per ton. In an era of budget crunches, the high cost of off-site MPW disposal has intensified the need to minimize the volume of MPW.
Here are a couple things that intramural scientists should keep in mind. First, all lab waste does not have to be disposed of in an MPW box. Surveys of NIH use of MPW boxes have shown that the boxes often contain materials that could be appropriately disposed of in other, less costly ways. Secondly, research labs themselves can often decontaminate MPW and dispose of the treated waste by non-MPW routes. With a few exceptions, MPW can be decontaminated by using methods like chemical treatment or steam sterilization, and then safely discarded in the general waste, disposable-labware box, or sink. For example, it is often possible to decontaminate used disposable labware with bleach or Wescodyne solution before placing it with uncontaminated gloves and labware in the disposable-labware box (NSN # 8115-01-154-2305) for removal as general waste. For routine tissue culture and bacteriology, autoclaved waste can be discarded as general waste. MPW boxes should be used only for disposal of nonradioactive, biologically contaminated materials; sealed "sharps" containers (3/4 full); and small animal carcasses.
Newspapers, food and beverage containers, and office paper should be disposed of in regular trash cans or recycling containers, where available. You might consider stocking up on reusable labware (especially unbreakable plasticware), which reduces waste and supply costs over time.
The Guide to NIH Waste Disposal, often referred to as the Waste Calendar, contains more detailed information on waste-decontamination packaging and disposal. The bright yellow Waste Calendars were delivered to NIH labs late last year. For a copy of the Waste Calendar or additional information on how you can help reduce waste at NIH, call your Institute's, Center's, or Division's Occupational Safety and Health Specialist at 6-2346.