Biohazardous Waste


Laboratory personnel and principal investigators (PIs) are responsible for identifying, packaging and properly decontaminating biohazardous waste, including all recombinant or synthetic DNA/RNA waste, before disposal. Procedures to identify, package, transport and decontaminate biohazardous waste are detailed below. For site-specific information, see Biohazardous Waste Flow Charts.

    What is biohazardous waste?

    The following materials are defined as biohazardous or biomedical waste:

    • Sharps waste
    • Human and nonhuman primate blood, tissue, body fluids and cell lines
    • Cultures or stocks of pathogenic agents, including bacteria, rickettsia, fungi, viruses, protozoa, parasites, prions and select agents
    • Recombinant or synthetic nucleic acids (recDNA), including waste products from procedures involving plasmids, viral vectors, E.coli, yeasts and naked nucleic acids
    • Laboratory waste items (i.e., used PPE, culture dishes, tubes) that have come into contact with a biohazard
    • Animal waste, carcasses and body parts that have been exposed to recDNA or any biohazard
    • Human pathological waste
    • Plant waste, including all transgenic plants, seeds, spores, plant debris and soil materials, and any plants exposed to plant pathogens

    Package biohazardous waste

      Solid biohazardous waste

      • Collect in plastic autoclavable waste bags with a biohazard symbol; double bagging is recommended for petri dishes.
      • Contain the bag inside a rigid, leak-proof container that has a biohazard symbol itself or allows the bag’s biohazard symbol to be visible.
      • Loosely tie bags before autoclaving to allow steam to penetrate.

      Biohazardous glass and plastic waste

      • Collect in a container that cannot be punctured such as a pipette box/keeper or a sturdy cardboard box lined with a biohazard bag.
      • See the Sharps and Laboratory Glass page for more information.

      Sharps waste

      • Collect in red plastic sharps containers with a biohazard symbol and tight-fitting lid.
      • Do not mix with any other type of waste.
      • See the Sharps and Laboratory Glass page for more information.

      Liquid biohazardous waste

      • Collect in leak-proof, rigid containers labeled with a biohazard symbol.
      • If transporting, close and seal containers, and place in a leak-proof secondary container.

      Transport biohazardous waste

      Biohazard transport policy

      Appendix C of the UW Biosafety Manual outlines procedures for safely transporting biohazards, including biohazardous waste.

      Decontaminate biohazardous waste

      On-site sterilization (autoclave)

      If you have access to an autoclave, you can treat and dispose of biohazardous waste yourself.  Steam sterilization with an autoclave effectively inactivates most infectious agents. Seattle-King County regulations apply to autoclaves that treat biohazardous waste. All autoclave operators must be trained on safety information and site-specific procedures. Watch Arizona State University's excellent autoclave training video. Then use the autoclave tools developed by EH&S to keep you safe and compliant:

      The only integrators approved for use by the Seattle-King County Health Department are 3M Comply Thermalog or Thermalog-S, 3M Comply SteriGage, and Steriscan. You can purchase these integrators from Fisher ScientificHealth Sciences Laboratory Services and other lab supply vendors.

      Autoclave cost centers

      Depending on your location, you can pay an autoclave cost center to treat and dispose of biohazardous waste. Autoclave cost centers charge a fee for autoclaving and disposal of waste. Each center has its own rules and procedures. Contact them directly for more information. Autoclave cost centers include:

      Off-site sterilization

      If you do not have access to an on-site autoclave or an autoclave cost center, biohazardous waste can be collected by a UW waste contractor for off-site treatment and disposal. EH&S Shipping Regulated Medical Waste Training is required for all personnel who will package and ship waste. Contact Laboratory Services in Health Sciences Academic Services and Facilities to set up an account with a UW waste contractor.

      Shipping for off-site treatment and disposal is required for some types of waste, such as trace chemo waste, certain pathological waste, and biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) animal carcasses, tissues and bedding. These wastes require incineration prior to disposal.

      Liquid biohazardous waste

      Liquid biohazardous waste must be treated before disposal via sanitary sewer and cannot be disposed of as solid waste. Use the following protocol to treat any free-flowing liquid biohazardous waste:

      • Collect in leak-proof, rigid containers labeled with a biohazard symbol.
      • If transporting, close and seal containers, and place in a leak-proof secondary container.
      • Add chlorine bleach to equal a final concentration of 10 percent bleach.
      • Let the solution sit for at least 30 minutes before disposing via the sewer.

      If liquid waste volumes equal or exceed 10 liters, contact EH&S at 206.221.7770.

      Pathological Waste

      Incineration or cremation is required for human pathological waste and nonhuman primate carcasses and body parts. Make disposal arrangements before obtaining human or nonhuman primate pathological samples. Do not dispose of pathological waste with other biohazardous wastes.

      • For human pathological waste, contact the Department of Biological Structure at 206-685-2274.
      • For nonhuman primate pathological waste, contact the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at 206-543-8686.
      • For extracted teeth, arrange for off-site incineration. If extracted teeth contain amalgam, contact EH&S at 206-616-5835 to arrange for off-site treatment.

      Site-specific information

      Refer to Biohazardous Waste Flow Charts for site-specific information.

      What you can do to stay safe

      • Be familiar with the different types of biohazardous waste and their packaging and disposal methods.
      • Plan for disposal before generating biohazardous waste.
      • Follow all of the autoclave safety and monitoring requirements and provide training to all autoclave operators.
      • Follow the biohazard transport policy when transporting biohazardous waste.

      Services available

      EH&S biosafety officers can assist with training, consultation and help with any biosafety questions. If you plan to generate mixed waste (i.e., biohazardous and radioactive), please contact EH&S first.

      Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

      Yes. Because recombinant or synthetic DNA/RNA is considered a biohazard, those tips do need to be autoclaved. Also, if your lab does any biohazardous work, it is easier to treat all pipets and tips as biohazardous so that you do not have to make a decision for each tip; instead, they all go as biohazardous waste.

      EH&S does not collect or treat sharps or other biohazardous waste. EH&S provides consultation and training for on-site or off-site treatment of sharps and biohazardous waste prior to disposal. Check with your department to see if a sharps disposal waste stream already exists.

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