Most of the Regulated Medical Infectious Waste generated in the United States is processed in steam autoclaves before being sent to landfills for final disposal.
So you might ask, “What is an autoclave and why do we take this step before landfilling?”
A steam autoclave works a lot like a pressure cooker that, if you were born before the 90’s, you might remember your mother or grandmother using on the kitchen stove, but much bigger.
Basically, once waste is loaded into the pressure vessel, pressurized steam is fed into it until a preset pressure and temperature are achieved. The waste is allowed to ‘soak’ under pressure and temperature for up to an hour, heating to more than 250 degrees F, which kills all of the germs, bacteria and viruses that might be contaminating the waste. When the cycle is complete, the waste is removed, placed in a trash container and sent to the landfill.
Many improvements and innovations have been added to this basic process over the years, like pre vacuum cycles to improve steam penetration into the waste, post vacuum cycles to cool and dry the waste and computerized cycle automation and record keeping. Some processes also include shredding and or compacting after autoclaving.
By adding the autoclaving process to the journey of infectious waste from the generator to the landfill, the waste industry assures that the waste is disinfected prior to final disposal, protecting the public health today and for the future.