How to Handle Biohazardous Waste in Labs

Laboratory technician

Handling biohazardous waste is a critical aspect of maintaining a safe and compliant laboratory environment, whether you are working in a professional research facility or a university lab. As a lab technician, you play a pivotal role in ensuring that biohazardous materials are managed properly to protect yourself, your colleagues, and the environment from potential hazards.

From wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to knowing how to effectively contain and clean spills, understanding the correct procedures is crucial for maintaining lab safety. By following these guidelines, you can confidently manage hazardous waste and contribute to a safer, more efficient laboratory setting.

Proper handling of biohazardous waste in laboratories is crucial for maintaining safety and compliance. This includes sterilising biohazardous materials through processes like autoclaving before disposal. By neutralising harmful microorganisms with high-pressure steam, autoclave waste management ensures both lab personnel and the environment are protected.

Table of contents

Types of Biohazardous Waste Produced in Labs


. Needles
. Syringes
. Scalpels
. Blades
. Pasteur pipettes (broken)
. Glass slides with sharp edges
. Lancets

These items can puncture the skin and transmit infectious agents if not handled properly. Always dispose of sharps in puncture-resistant containers designed specifically for this type of waste. Never recap needles or bend them; dispose of them directly into the sharps container.

Cultures and Stocks

. Microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi)
. Tissues
. Blood
. Bodily fluids (saliva, sputum, urine)
. Culture media (used to grow microorganisms)
. Discarded experimental materials

These materials may contain infectious agents and should be decontaminated or inactivated before disposal. Inactivation methods can include autoclaving (steam sterilization) or chemical disinfection.

Animal Waste

. Carcasses of research animals
. Animal tissues and organs
. Bedding from animal cages
. Blood and other bodily fluids from animals

Animal waste may harbor zoonotic diseases, which can be transmitted from animals to humans. Proper handling and disposal procedures are essential to prevent the spread of disease. Incineration or autoclaving are common methods for disposal of animal waste.

Biohazardous Liquids

. Blood and blood products
. Tissue homogenates
. Serum and plasma
. Other potentially infectious fluids

These liquids can transmit infectious agents through contact with mucous membranes or open wounds. Biohazardous liquids should be collected in leak-proof containers and decontaminated or inactivated before disposal. Liquid waste can be decontaminated with bleach or other suitable disinfectants.

How to temporarily store biohazardous waste in the lab

Storing hazardous lab waste in red waste bag

Use rigid, leak-proof containers specifically designed for biohazardous waste. These containers are typically red and prominently display the universal biohazard symbol for easy identification. They come in various sizes to accommodate different waste types and volumes.

To prevent punctures and spills, segregate different types of hazardous waste into separate containers. Sharps should never be placed in regular waste bins due to the risk of injuries. Cultures, liquids, and animal waste each require specific handling, so keeping them separate prevents contamination and ensures proper disposal procedures are followed.

Clearly label each container with the biohazard symbol, the contents, and the date it began accumulating waste. This allows for easy identification and helps track the volume for timely collection.

How is biohazardous waste collected from the lab?

lab waste stored in bin

Typically, labs have specific protocols and guidelines in place for the segregation, packaging, and storage of biohazardous waste until it is collected by a licensed handler. Waste materials, such as contaminated sharps, biological specimens, and other potentially infectious materials, are placed in designated biohazard containers.

These containers are often color-coded and clearly marked to differentiate them from other types of waste. The lab staff are trained to handle and store these materials appropriately to reduce any risk of contamination or exposure.

Before collection, it is crucial to securely close and label all biohazardous waste containers. Proper labeling includes indicating the contents and the date of waste generation, ensuring that disposal companies can handle them correctly.

It is also essential to follow any specific instructions provided by the lab safety officer or the waste disposal company, as procedures can vary based on local regulations and the type of waste being disposed of. In addition to routine pickups, labs may also have protocols for handling and storing waste in the event of a spill or emergency.

Precautions when handling biohazardous waste

handling lab waste

When handling biohazardous waste, it is essential to always wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This includes gloves, a lab coat, eye protection, and a face mask to reduce the risk of exposure to harmful pathogens. PPE acts as a barrier between the waste and your skin, eyes, and respiratory system, significantly reducing the chance of contamination.

Additionally, never recap needles or other sharps to prevent accidental punctures or injuries; instead, dispose of them immediately into designated sharps containers that are puncture-resistant and clearly marked.

Careful handling of all biohazardous materials is crucial to avoid spills or splashes. If a spill does occur, decontaminate the affected work surfaces promptly using appropriate disinfectants to neutralise any harmful agents.

After handling biohazardous waste, and before removing your PPE, it is vital to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. This practice helps eliminate any contaminants that may have been transferred to your skin during the waste handling process.

Handling a hazardous waste spill & contamination

Lab waste spillage

If there is a biohazardous waste spill, the first step is to remain calm and act quickly to contain the spill. Use absorbent materials, such as paper towels, to prevent the spread of the spill. Ensure that you have appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on hand, including gloves, a lab coat, eye protection, and a face mask, before approaching the spill. Carefully place the absorbent materials over the spill without causing it to spread further. Once the spill is contained, prepare to clean and disinfect the affected area.

After containing the spill, don your PPE and disinfect the area using an appropriate disinfectant, following the manufacturer’s instructions for effectiveness against the specific biohazard.

Clean all affected surfaces thoroughly. Dispose of all contaminated materials, such as used paper towels and PPE, in designated biohazard waste containers. Promptly inform your lab supervisor or safety officer to arrange proper disposal and any necessary follow-up actions to uphold lab safety.


Handling biohazardous waste in labs demands swift action during spills. Stay composed, use absorbent materials like paper towels to contain the spill, and ensure full PPE (gloves, lab coat, eye protection, face mask) is worn. Cover the spill carefully to prevent spread, then thoroughly disinfect using an appropriate disinfectant, following instructions for effective biohazard control.

Dispose of all contaminated materials, including used PPE and towels, in designated biohazard waste containers. Immediately notify your supervisor for proper disposal and follow-up measures to maintain lab safety. These steps ensure efficient spill management, reducing contamination risks and maintaining a safe laboratory environment.

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