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Empty pharmaceutical containers

Containers that once held pharmaceutical products may be dangerous or hazardous waste if not emptied properly. We regulate the disposal of containers that held pharmaceutical products

What is a pharmaceutical container?

Examples of pharmaceutical containers include:

  • Intravenous (IV) bags and tubing
  • Syringes
  • Ampoules
  • Vials and bottles

What is an empty container?

Empty containers are solid waste and can be placed in the regular trash only after they've been properly emptied, unless it contained a chemotherapy agent (see "When is a container dangerous waste?" below).

How to empty a container

A container is considered empty once all of the following criteria is met:
  1. Emptied using all normal means (see below);
  2. Contains less than 3 percent of container capacity; and
  3. Did not contain a pharmaceutical designated as:
  4. Triple-rinsed.

Normal means of emptying pharmaceutical containers includes:

  • Fully depressing a syringe
  • Fully administering an IV bag
  • Withdrawing all the contents of a vial with a syringe

When is a container dangerous waste?

A container is dangerous waste when:

  • It does not meet all of the "empty" criteria given above. 
  • It contained a chemotherapy agent, unless the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous chemotherapy and containers have been identified and segregated.

When is a container dual waste?

An empty container is dual waste when it:

  • Contained a pharmaceutical whose sole active ingredient is:
  • Contained a chemotherapy agent or other sole active pharmaceutical that is assumed to be:
    • A P-listed RCRA waste; or
    • A WT01 state-only dangerous waste contaminated with body fluids.

How to manage containers of dangerous waste

Manage containers of dangerous waste in this way: 

  1. Manage as pharmaceutical dangerous waste.
  2. Manage dangerous waste syringes with needle attached as dual waste.
  3. Manage all chemotherapy containers as dangerous waste or under the guidelines in the NIOSH Alert: Preventing Occupational Exposures to Antineoplastic and Other Hazardous Drugs in Health Care Settings