Pathological Waste; How it is Collected, Treated & Disposed

What is Pathological Waste?

Pathological waste is a subcategory of biohazardous waste which typically originates from surgical procedures or research that involves removal of organs, tissues or body parts. It can be human or animal. For the purpose of proper classification and disposal, teeth, hair and nails are not considered pathological waste in Maryland. Check with your state’s health authorities or with your medical waste disposal vendor if you need help determining what is and what isn’t pathological waste.

It is a very common type of waste generated by numerous healthcare and medical research and testing facilities. And due to its unique qualities and challenges, it calls for different collection and disposal procedures than your typical red-bag waste.

Types of Pathological Waste

  • Amputated tissues, organs and body parts
  • Tissue samples collected for analysis
  • Animal tissues, organs, body parts or carcasses used in research
  • Surgical specimens.
  • Bodily fluids removed during surgery or autopsy.

Pathological Waste Collection

It should be separated from the rest of the red-bag regulated medical waste. It possesses a few qualities that may warrant different disposal procedures. Consider this when developing your facility’s guidelines for pathological waste collection and disposal:

  • Pathological waste, specifically anatomical waste such as organs, can be saturated or filled with bodily fluids. Special measures, such as double-bagging or use of absorbents, may need to be taken to prevent leakage.
  • It has to be refrigerated in order to slow down decomposition and prevent odors. It’s best to have it picked up promptly.
  • Some pathological waste may be hazardous if it was in contact with hazardous chemicals such as chemotherapy drugs. It may also be infectious or potentially infectious. In either case, it should be labeled accordingly.

Read Also: Biomedical Waste Management; Treatment & Disposal

Pathological Waste Treatment

There are some approaches to the treatment of pathological waste. Some are as follows:

  • Composting:

Composting is the natural process of decomposition and recycling of organic material into a humus rich soil amendment known as compost. For any business or institution producing food waste, this organic material can be easily decomposed into high quality compost.

Just as waste food can be composted, so can pathological waste, although some people may object to treating human tissue that way. Sometimes worms are put in the mix in a process called vermicomposting.

Pathological waste is not usually put in composters, with the exception of placentas. Human psychological considerations prevent human body parts from being composted.

There are different types of composting –

1. Passive composting or piling: Is simply stacking the materials and letting them decompose naturally.

2. Aerated static piles

3. Windrows

4. Bins

5. Vermicomposting

  • Irradiation:

Irradiation treatment is a process where wastes are exposed to electron beams, cobalt-60 or ultraviolet sources. The electron beams has the ability to penetrate waste bags, this eliminates the need for a mechanical shredding before treatment.

  • Chemical processes:

Pathological waste can also be treated using chemical processes. This methods use disinfectants such as dissolved chlorine dioxide, bleach (sodium hypochlorite), peracetic acid, lime solution, or dry inorganic chemicals (e.g. calcium oxide).

Read Also: Patient Safety; Everything You Need to Know [An Indepth Review]


Technically, this waste falls under the umbrella of regulated medical waste. Within that category, there are two primary means of waste disposal. Depending on the type of waste, that can involve medical waste autoclaves, or it can involve a medical waste incinerator.

One of the most common medical waste steams treated through the autoclave process is anything contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious material. This type of waste is largely known as red bag medical waste.

Anything deemed pathological, however, is not suitable for the autoclave machine. Rather, this type of waste must go through medical incineration—a much hotter treatment that essentially reduces the contents to dust or ash. (On the other hand, autoclaving is merely a sterilization process. The products themselves are not reduced down in this way.)

By Ubong Edet

A passionate Health and Safety professional with a good level of field experience and relevant certifications including NEBOSH, OSHA, ISO, etc certifications. An Health and Safety activist who believes in the growth and continual improvement of the profession. He is going all out to create awareness and safe precious lives.

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