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Wisconsin's infectious waste regulations

Infectious waste annual report

Starting with the 2014 report, annual reports must be submitted online. See our new annual report page for details.

Infectious waste - also known as biohazardous, red bag or regulated medical waste - must be segregated from other waste types and disinfected before it is disposed of in a solid waste landfill. Businesses and institutions should review the information on this page. Households are only required to manage their sharps separately.

The 2014 Medical Waste Reporter [PDF] includes announcements, articles, tips and resources relevant to those who generate infectious waste in Wisconsin.

Infectious waste basics

The difference between infectious waste and medical waste

Basically, infectious waste is waste that can pass on infectious diseases to people or animals, such as sharps (including hypodermic needles, syringes and lancets), blood or human tissue. Medical waste is infectious waste plus any non-infectious waste that may be mixed with them.

  • Infectious waste means solid waste that contains pathogens with sufficient virulence and in sufficient quantity that exposure of a susceptible human or animal to the solid waste could cause the human or animal to contract an infectious disease [s. 287.07(7)(c)1.c., Wis. Stats.].
  • Medical waste means infectious waste, as defined above, and other waste that contains or may be mixed with infectious waste [s. 299.51(1)(b), Wis. Stats.].

Note that medical waste does not mean all of the waste produced in a healthcare setting. Non-infectious materials from a healthcare facility are considered to be "medical waste" only if the generator mixes them with infectious waste or manages them as though they are infectious waste. Any other waste materials from a healthcare facility are not considered "medical waste" under Wisconsin law. If possible, these non-infectious items should be reused or recycled.

Items considered to be infectious waste

The following items are presumed to be infectious waste.

  • Sharps, including unused or disinfected sharps that are being discarded, such as hypodermic needles, syringes with needles, scalpel blades, lancets, broken glass or rigid plastic vials and laboratory slides.
  • Bulk blood or body fluids, including pourable or drippable amounts of blood or body fluids or items saturated with blood or body fluids.
  • Microbiological laboratory waste, such as cultures derived from clinical specimens and discarded laboratory equipment that has contacted cultures.
  • Human tissue, including teeth but not hair or nails.
  • Tissue, bulk blood or body fluids from an animal carrying a zoonotic infectious agent such as rabies, anthrax or tuberculosis.

For legal definitions of infectious and medical waste and related terms, see:

Note: Households are only required to manage their sharps as infectious waste. The rest of these items, when managed by households, may be put in the regular trash. The DNR recommends wrapping them in plastic first.

Items usually not considered to be infectious waste

The following are presumed not to be infectious waste.

  • Items soiled or spotted, but not saturated, with human blood or body fluids, such as gloves, gowns, dressings, bandages, surgical drapes and feminine hygiene products.
  • Items containing non-infectious body fluids, such as diapers.
  • Containers, packaging, waste glass, laboratory equipment or other materials that have had no contact with blood, body fluids, clinical cultures or infectious agents.
  • Animal manure and bedding.
  • Tissue, blood or body fluids from animals not known to be carrying a zoonotic infectious agent.
  • Teeth that individuals take home from the dentist. Get more information on dental waste.

Note: If these items were mixed with infectious waste, they would have to be managed as though they were infectious. Also see s. NR 526.05(2), Wis. Adm. Code [PDF exit DNR].

If you are unsure whether an item is infectious waste

Contact the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Heather Kloth
Infection control epidemiologist
608-266-0365

Items that are both infectious waste and hazardous waste

Some wastes can be both hazardous waste and infectious waste. For example, laboratory samples of blood mixed with a reagent containing mercury is both an infectious waste and a hazardous waste. People handling wastes that are both hazardous and infectious should send them to a hazardous waste facility that can also handle infectious waste.

Additional information

DNR publications about sharps and other medical wastes are in the Waste & Materials Management Searchable Publication System. Search for the category "medical/infectious waste."

Legal requirements

Legal requirements for medical and infectious waste

Anyone generating or managing infectious waste must follow Wisconsin's medical waste rules.

Those who generate or manage small quantities of infectious waste must segregate wastes and follow all safety-related requirements, but may be exempt from administrative requirements such as licensing and paperwork. This fact sheet will help you manage your infectious waste safely and may also help reduce your costs.

Businesses and institutions may have to file annual reports on the amounts they send off-site for treatment.

Segregating infectious waste

Segregation of wastes, also known as source separation, is mandatory at the time they are generated for all non-household infectious waste generators according to NR 526.06.

Reducing healthcare waste

Hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, unless exempt, must write and implement plans for reducing healthcare waste (see ss. NR 526.16 through .22).

Treating infectious waste

Healthcare facilities must ensure their infectious waste is properly treated before it is sent to the landfill. Generators may treat their own wastes if they follow the requirements of ss. NR 526.11 and 12.

Generators treating fewer than 500 pounds of infectious waste per day are exempt from licensing. All others must obtain DNR approval and an operating license. Prospective treatment facility operators should contact the DNR Medical Waste Coordinator before submitting the facility plan of operation to ensure the plan will address DNR concerns, particularly about testing protocols.

Transportation

Requirements for transporting infectious waste

You may either hire a licensed infectious waste transporter, or transport the waste yourself as an exempt or licensed transporter.

All transporters, exempt from licensing or not, must follow minimum safety requirements in s. NR 526.10(3), Wis. Adm. Code.

Determining whether you need a license

Those transporting less than 50 pounds per month, in every month of a calendar year, may transport infectious waste without a special license. Special licenses and license exemptions are in s. NR 526.10 (2). Those transporting 50 pounds or more of infectious waste must obtain an infectious waste transportation license.

If a vehicle carrying infectious waste is traveling through Wisconsin without stopping to pick up, drop off or transfer waste, the vehicle does not need to have a Wisconsin infectious waste transportation license.

For more information or to obtain a license application form, see:

If you are starting a trauma scene or crime scene cleanup business, please see the questions about trauma scene requirements in the Healthcare waste treatment FAQ.

Ebola

Ebola-contaminated waste

There are no known cases of Ebola virus disease in Wisconsin at this time. If there were, Wisconsin's medical waste regulations would apply to Ebola-contaminated waste because Ebola virus disease is an infectious disease. The Department of Health Services is the lead agency for Ebola response in Wisconsin and will post any Wisconsin-specific guidance about Ebola waste.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration [exit DNR] has issued guidance regarding packaging and transportation of Ebola-contaminated waste. Although U.S. DOT requirements about packaging and transportation supersede Wisconsin's, Wisconsin requirements would still apply to licensing of vehicles transporting Ebola-contaminated waste. See the Transporting infectious waste tab.

Last revised: Thursday November 16 2017