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Biomedical Waste: Definition, Sources and Categories

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Biomedical waste
Biomedical waste


Biomedical waste, also known as healthcare or medical waste, is a type of waste that is generated during healthcare activities, medical research, and the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of humans or animals. It encompasses a wide range of materials that may be potentially hazardous, infectious, or non-hazardous but require specific handling and disposal methods due to their potential risks to human health and the environment.

Biomedical waste poses unique challenges due to its diverse nature and potential for containing pathogens, toxins, or other harmful substances. Improper management of biomedical waste can have severe consequences, including the spread of infections, injuries to healthcare workers and waste handlers, air pollution, water pollution, and soil pollution, and the potential for community health hazards. Understanding the sources and types of biomedical waste is crucial for developing effective waste management strategies.

Healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and laboratories are the primary generators of biomedical waste. These facilities produce waste in various forms, including sharps (such as needles and syringes), discarded medicines, human anatomical waste (tissues, organs), pathological waste (biopsy specimens, body fluids), pharmaceutical waste, and medical devices which lead to environmental pollution.

Sources of Biomedical Waste

Sources of Biomedical Waste
Sources of Biomedical Waste

1. Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities

These are the primary sources of biomedical waste. Hospitals generate a wide range of waste, including sharps (needles, syringes, scalpels), discarded medicines, human anatomical waste (tissues, organs), pathological waste (biopsy specimens, body fluids), pharmaceutical waste, expired or unused medications, and various medical devices and equipment.

2. Laboratories and Research Facilities

Biomedical waste is produced in laboratories and research facilities during experiments, testing, and research activities. This includes cultures, stocks, and specimens of microorganisms, infectious agents, sharps, and animal carcasses.

3. Blood Banks

Blood banks generate waste, such as discarded blood bags, tubes, and expired blood products.

4. Veterinary Clinics

These facilities produce biomedical waste similar to healthcare facilities but specifically related to animal treatment and research.

5. Mortuaries and Funeral Homes

These places generate waste from embalming procedures, autopsy, and preparation of human remains for burial or cremation.

6. Nursing Homes and Residential Healthcare Facilities

These settings produce waste from patient care, including sharps, soiled dressings, used medical supplies, and expired medications.

7. Pharmacies

Pharmaceutical waste, including expired or unused medications, empty containers, and packaging, is generated in pharmacies.

Classification of Biomedical Waste

The classification of biomedical waste may vary between countries, but it generally includes the following categories:


1. Sharps

Needles, syringes, scalpels, broken glassware, and other sharp objects can cause injuries or transmit infections.

2. Infectious Waste

Waste contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials, such as discarded gloves, gowns, swabs, or cultures.

3. Pathological Waste

Human or animal tissues, organs, body parts, and fluids are removed during surgery, autopsy, or other medical procedures.

4. Pharmaceutical Waste

Expired, unused, or contaminated medications, vaccines, and other pharmaceutical products.

5. Chemical Waste

Chemicals used in medical laboratories, disinfectants, solvents, and reagents.

6. Radioactive Waste

Waste containing radioactive materials, is typically generated in nuclear medicine and radiology departments.

7. Non-Hazardous Waste

Non-infectious and non-toxic waste generated in healthcare facilities, such as paper, packaging materials, and food waste.

Colour Coding of Biomedical Waste

The colour coding system for segregating biomedical waste may vary depending on the country or region. However, I can provide you with a commonly used colour coding system that is widely adopted. The followings are the categories and their corresponding colour codes for the segregation of biomedical waste:


1. Yellow Category

This category includes waste that is potentially infectious. It includes items contaminated with blood, body fluids, or other potentially infectious materials. The colour code for this category is yellow.

Examples include:

  1. Used sharps (needles, syringes, blades)

  2. Disposable items (gloves, gowns, masks)

  3. Plastic tubing and bags

  4. Soiled dressings and bandages

2. Red Category

This category includes waste that is highly infectious or biohazardous. It includes microbiological cultures, pathological waste, and items contaminated with highly infectious materials that can affect biodiversity. The colour code for this category is red.

Examples include:

  1. Laboratory waste (cultures, stocks, specimens)

  2. Human or animal tissues and organs

  3. Blood-soaked materials

  4. Contaminated animal bedding

3. Blue Category

This category includes waste that is recyclable, non-infectious, and non-hazardous which is essential for environmental conservation. The colour code for this category is blue.

Examples include:

  1. Paper and cardboard waste

  2. Empty plastic bottles and containers

  3. Packaging materials (without contamination)

  4. Disposable gloves (non-infectious)

4. White Category

This category includes non-infectious waste that does not pose any hazard. The colour code for this category is white.

Examples include:

  1. Waste from food preparation areas

  2. Office waste (paper, stationery)

  3. Floor and dust sweepings

  4. Plastic waste (not contaminated)

It's important to note that these colour codes serve as a general guideline, and specific regulations and guidelines may differ between countries or regions. It's crucial to follow the colour coding system and guidelines provided by the local regulatory authorities or healthcare facilities to ensure proper segregation and disposal of biomedical waste.


Biomedical waste is a complex and diverse waste stream that requires careful handling, treatment, and disposal to prevent potential risks to human health and the environment. With effective waste management practices, including proper segregation, treatment technologies, and adherence to regulations, we can ensure the safe and sustainable management of biomedical waste and minimize its impact on our communities and the environment.

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