Biohazardous waste

References for researchers

Biohazardous waste includes any waste item contaminated with a biological material that creates an infectious disease transmission risk or an environmental release risk (e.g., pathogens, recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules). 

Briefly, biohazards are typically inactivated before or during disposal: 

  • Autoclaved waste: Many labs collect potentially biohazardous waste and inactivate it by autoclave, thereby allowing the waste to be disposed in landfill. The waste container should be marked with the biohazard symbol (image to the right); however the bag should be black, white, or clear and free of the biohazard symbol (once the bagged waste is autoclaved, it is no longer biohazardous and can be sent to the landfill). Any contents or bags marked with the biohazard symbol, labeled “infectious” or “pathogenic,” or other similar markings discovered at any point in the waste stream cannot be disposed of in the landfill and will initiate an emergency biohazard response. Remember that opaque bags may rupture during waste processing to reveal inner biohazard labeling.
  • Waste treated by Incineration (all locations) or STI Steam Treatment (Pullman Campus Only): Bagged (any color or markings) and boxed waste marked and labeled appropriately for STI or incineration. This requires a WSU waste Management Form: WSU Pullman STI/Incineration Waste Management Request. Contact or call 509-335‐3089 for more information. STI treated waste is state funded and does not cost individual research investigators. 
  • Sharps: All biohazardous sharps (e.g., needles, razor blades) in the state of Washington are disposed by incineration only. Sharps must be collected in a hard-walled container, preferably designed for sharps, and then placed in a box for incinerator processing (see above). Sharps not used or associated with biohazardous materials must be collected in a hard-walled container, preferably designed for sharps, and disposed in the landfill (Pullman campus). Any sharps container marked with the biohazard symbol, labeled “infectious” or “pathogenic,” or other similar markings discovered at any point in the waste stream cannot be disposed of in the landfill and will initiate an emergency biohazard response.  
  • Spokane Health Sciences Campus Waste Management: Spokane biohazardous waste is handled by contract services with Trilogy Medwaste and is incinerated. All waste receptacles are color-coded with white/light bags/bins for safely autoclaved waste, red bags/bins for medical or non-autoclavable biohazards, orange bins/bags for pathological waste (e.g., vivarium waste and fixed tissues), and sharps containers. Lab Services provides extra bags and bins. 

Responsibility of the investigator

Unlike hazardous chemical or radioactive waste, biohazardous waste is not defined and regulated by any one federal agency. Several agencies associated with research funding have unique waste disposal requirements.

It is the investigator’s responsibility to maintain a general knowledge of biosafety regulations and guidelines. As a researcher, you must understand how regulations and guidelines apply to your work and to waste generated through research and diagnostic service processes. Contact the biosafety officer if you have questions or concerns.

Managing biohazardous waste

If your work will generate any of the wastes described below, then you probably will need to segregate and manage some portion of your research waste as biohazardous waste.

It is prudent to manage all biological materials used in research as if they posed a risk of infectious disease or an environmental risk if released.

Human-derived materials

Including clinical and unfixed anatomical specimens, tissues, cell lines, body fluids, and other potentially infectious material

Applicable regulation

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Bloodborne Pathogens Standard 29 cfr 1910.1030

Biohazardous wastes

Those wastes that are contaminated to the extent where fluids can drip off or flake off of waste; liquid wastes; fresh (unfixed) tissues; sharps. Regulated wastes means:

  • Liquid or semi-liquid blood or other potentially infectious materials
  • Contaminated items that would release blood or other potentially infectious materials in a liquid or semi-liquid state if compressed
  • Items that are caked with dried blood or other potentially infectious materials and are capable of releasing these materials during handling
  • Contaminated sharps
  • Pathological and microbiological wastes containing blood or other potentially infectious materials
Other potentially infectious material
  • The following human body fluids:
  • Semen
  • Vaginal secretions
  • Cerebrospinal fluid
  • Synovial fluid
  • Pleural fluid
  • Pericardial fluid
  • Peritoneal fluid
  • Amniotic fluid
  • Saliva in dental procedures
  • Any body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood
  • All body fluids in situations where it is difficult or impossible to differentiate between body fluids
  • Any unfixed tissue or organ (other than intact skin) from a human (living or dead)
  • HIV-containing cell or tissue cultures, organ cultures, and HIV- or HBV-containing culture medium or other solutions; and blood, organs, or other tissues from experimental animals infected with HIV or HBV

Genetically modified organisms

For example:

  • Transgenic plants and animals
  • Recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid (r/sNA)-modified microorganisms
  • Molecules that are constructed outside living cells by joining natural or synthetic nucleic acid segments to RNA or DNA molecules that can replicate in a living cell
  • Molecules that result from the replication of those previously described
Applicable regulation

NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules

Biohazardous wastes
  • All potentially contaminated r/sNA solid and liquid wastes including sharps.
  • All animal carcasses covered by Appendix M-I-B-1 of the NIH guidelines and experimental transgenic plants must be disposed of to avoid entering the food chain.

Pathogenic microorganisms or human/animal specimens

Lab and animal studies involving:

  • Work with microorganisms that can cause disease in humans, animals, plants, or be hazardous to the environment (e.g., invasive species)
  • Diagnostic laboratory operations involving human or animal clinical specimens
Applicable regulations
Biohazardous wastes

All cultures, stocks, and items contaminated with these materials; in some cases, animal bedding and carcasses; biohazardous sharps

Substances that require a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture–Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA–APHIS)

Any animal- or plant-derived materials or pathogens that you need an APHIS permit to receive or retain

Applicable regulation

USDA/APHIS permits

Biohazardous wastes

Permits outline specific waste treatment requirements for the material. Segregation and biological inactivation (i.e., devitalization) of the material is usually required prior to disposal.

Livestock that died from a reportable disease

Livestock with diseases that require reporting to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) must be disposed in consultation with the state veterinarian.

Applicable regulation

Washington State Legislature, Washington Administrative Code 16-25-030

Biohazardous material

Livestock that have died from an OIE reportable disease

Biomedical waste

Including but not limited to:

  • Animal waste
  • Liquid human body fluids
  • Cultures and stocks
  • Pathological waste
  • Sharps (even unused sharps when removed from their original packaging)
Applicable regulation

Washington State Legislature, Washington Administrative Codes 173-300-020 and 480-70-041

Biohazardous material
  • Animal waste: Includes waste animal carcasses, body parts, and bedding of animals that were known to have been deliberately infected or inoculated with human pathogenic microorganisms during research
  • Liquid human body fluids: Waste that includes waste liquid emanating or derived from humans, including but not limited to human blood and blood products, serum and plasma, sputum, drainage secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, peritoneal fluid, pericardial fluid and amniotic fluid that exceeds fifty milliliters per container
  • Cultures and stocks: Waste that includes waste cultures and stocks of microbiological agents infectious to humans, human serums and discarded live and attenuated vaccines infectious to humans, human blood specimens, and laboratory wastes that are contaminated with these agents or specimens
  • Pathological waste: Includes waste human source biopsy materials, tissues, and anatomical parts that emanate from surgery, obstetrical procedures, autopsy, and laboratory procedures
  • Sharps: Includes waste hypodermic needles, syringes, IV tubing with needles attached, scalpel blades, and lancets that have been used in animal or human patient care or treatment in medical research. Also includes all hypodermic needles, syringes with needles attached, IV tubing with needles attached, scalpel blades, and lancets that have been removed from the original sterile package.

Mixed waste

WSU incinerates r/sNA waste with intercalating dye agents, including but not limited to ethidium bromide (EtBr), SYBR products, GelRed and GelGreen.

Applicable regulations

A standard operating procedure template for ethidium bromide use has been developed by WSU Environmental Health and Safety.

Biohazardous material

Mixture of the following:

  • Intercalating dyes in waste: Should not be autoclaved, as this can volatilize the agent.
  • r/sNA waste: Must be decontaminated before disposal. Chemical agents (e.g., bleach), incineration, or autoclaving are all possibilities.

Chemical waste

WSU manages chemical wastes in accordance with local, state and federal regulatory requirements. All containers must be properly labeled and include certain elements such as the phrase “dangerous waste,” chemical constituents summing to 100%, and major hazards once in use. Incompatible wastes cannot be mixed. Waste should not be stockpiled. Once a container is filled, submit a chemical waste collection request to EH&S. 


Contact WSU officials responsible for biohazardous waste management with questions about the efficacy of chemical inactivation, incineration, or autoclaving for your particular research.