Sharps and Laboratory Glass and Plastic Waste

There is a difference between "sharps waste" and "laboratory glass and plastic waste." How to package waste items for disposal depends on whether or not the items are contaminated with biohazardous material.

Sharps Waste

Sharps waste is regulated by state law and must not be disposed of in the regular waste stream. The term "sharps" refers to items used to puncture or cut body parts and that, in a waste container, can cause punctures or cuts to waste handlers. Therefore, all sharps waste must be placed in appropriate sharps containers and decontaminated prior to disposal. For information on how to work safely with sharps, please see Sharps Safety in Research.

Always sharps waste:

needles lancets syringe
needles lancets syringes
  • needles, including syringes with needles and IV tubing with needles attached
  • syringes without needles when removed from their original sterile containers
  • lancets
  • scalpel blades

Sharps waste only if contaminated with biohazardous material (including recombinant or synthetic DNA/RNA):

  • broken glass
  • razor blades
  • fragile glass tubes, vials, or ampoules including glass Pasteur pipettes
  • glass slides and cover slips

Sharps Waste Packaging

Sharps container

All sharps waste as defined above must be placed in red plastic sharps containers labeled with the biohazard symbol. Sharps containers are available for purchase from Biochemistry stores or from laboratory supply vendors. Use appropriately sized sharps containers and do not fill more than two-thirds full. When no more than two-thirds full, close the lid and place autoclave tape over the lid and sides. Do not block vent holes. Label container with Principal Investigator (PI) name and room number.

All sharps containers must be decontaminated prior to disposal regardless of whether the items are contaminated with biohazardous material. Refer to the Biohazardous Waste Flow Chart for your location for treatment and disposal information. Remember that sharps waste must be kept separate from other waste streams at all times.

If a sharps container is punctured or has needles sticking out of it, the entire container must be placed inside a larger sharps container prior to treatment and disposal. Do not attempt to empty a sharps container that has been punctured!

Trace Chemo Sharps Waste Packaging

Trace chemo sharps

Dispose of sharps contaminated with chemotherapy (chemo) or hazardous drugs separately in a yellow sharps container. For more information, see Chemotherapy and Other Hazardous Drugs.

Do not autoclave yellow trace chemo sharps containers. Trace chemo sharps waste is shipped off site for disposal by incineration at a regulated facility. EH&S training and account set-up required prior to shipping.


Laboratory Glass and Plastic Waste

Laboratory glass and plastic waste refers to laboratory waste items that do not fall under any of sharps definitions above but could puncture regular waste bags and therefore endanger waste handlers. Packaging and disposal of these items depends on whether or not the items are contaminated.

Biohazardous Laboratory Glass and Plastic

Biohazardous laboratory glass and plastic includes items contaminated with biohazardous material (including recombinant or synthetic DNA/RNA) that could puncture a plastic bag:

  • micropipette tips
  • serological pipettes
  • test tubes
  • swabs/sticks
  • other contaminated items that do not fall under the sharps definitions above and could puncture a biohazard bag
Pipette box

Place contaminated plastic pipettes and pipette tips in a container that can be easily autoclaved and does not allow the items to puncture it such as a pipette box/keeper. Package other contaminated glass or plastic items in a heavy cardboard box lined with a biohazard bag. Label the box with the biohazard symbol. Seal with "Laboratory Glass" tape and label with PI name and room number. Cardboard boxes should never be used for sharps waste.

Biohazardous lab glass and plastic must be decontaminated prior to disposal. Refer to the Biohazardous Waste Flow Chart for your location for specific treatment and disposal information.

Non-Hazardous Laboratory Glass and Plastic

Non-hazardous laboratory glass and plastic waste includes items not contaminated with biohazardous material that could puncture a plastic bag:

  • micropipette tips
  • serological pipettes
  • test tubes
  • swabs/sticks
  • non-contaminated broken glass, razor blades, fragile glass items including glass Pasteur pipettes, glass slides and cover slips
Glass disposal

Package non-hazardous lab glass and plastic waste items in sturdy cardboard boxes. Empty chemical containers (including pipette tips and centrifuge tubes) can be packaged as non-hazardous lab glass. Use any cardboard box, provided the box is sturdy and will not weigh more than 25 pounds when full. Label boxes with the room number and PI name and seal with "Laboratory Glass" tape. If printed tape is not available, seal the box with other packaging tape and clearly label as "Laboratory Glass." Place the Laboratory Glass box next to the regular trash container for custodial pick-up and disposal via municipal waste. Boxes and tape are available in the Chemistry stockroom and from several UW vendors, and tape is available from Biochemistry stores.

Do not use cardboard boxes for sharps waste, biohazardous material, liquid waste, or chemical containers that cannot be disposed of as regular solid waste. To determine if lab glass and plastic that is contaminated with chemicals should be managed as chemical waste, see Empty Chemical Containers. Dispose of glass and plastic items contaminated with radioactive material as Radioactive Waste. Refer to the Radiation Safety Manual for more information.


Packaging Sharps and Laboratory Glass Waste Poster

The Packaging Sharps and Lab Glass Waste poster is available for download! Print in color and display in your lab for guidance on packaging sharps and lab glass and plastic waste. Download and print from Adobe Acrobat for best results.


Biohazardous Waste Flow Charts

Please refer to the University of Washington site-specific Biohazardous Waste Flow Charts for treatment and disposal information for your location.


If you have questions about sharps or biohazardous waste, please contact EH&S Research and Occupational Safety at or 206.221.7770.