Sharps, Laboratory Glass, and Plasticware Waste

There is a difference between "sharps" waste, "laboratory glass" and "plasticware" waste. It is important to understand the difference and handle these wastes accordingly.


Sharps Waste

Sharps waste is a waste stream regulated by state law and must not be disposed of in the regular waste stream. The term "sharps" is a regulatory waste classification associated with those instruments used to puncture, cut, or scrape body parts and that, in a waste container, can cause punctures or cuts to solid waste handlers or the public. This means that all sharps waste is placed in appropriate sharps containers and decontaminated prior to disposal.

Sharps include the following:

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 (part of Oregon's definition of Sharps)
  • Lancets
  • Scalpel blades

Sharps include the following when contaminated with biohazardous materials (including recombinant DNA):

  • Glass tubes/vials that can be broken during handling such as Pasteur pipettes, ampoules, and capillary tubes
  • Broken glass
  • Glass slides and cover slips
  • Razor blades
Sharps container

All sharps waste is placed in red sharps containers marked with the biohazardous symbol. Use appropriate size sharps containers, and do not fill more than two-thirds full. See the location specific Biohazardous Waste Flow Charts for instructions on how to get sharps containers collected.

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Laboratory Glass and Plasticware Waste


Laboratory beakers

Laboratory glass and plasticware are terms for laboratory waste items that do not fall under the definition of sharps but that could puncture regular waste bags and therefore endanger waste handlers.

Glass disposal

Laboratory glass and plasticware not contaminated with biohazardous material (including recombinant DNA), chemicals, or radioactive materials must be placed in sturdy cardboard boxes. Any cardboard box may be used, provided it is sturdy and of a size that will not weigh more than 40 pounds when full. Boxes must be labeled with the room number and Principal Investigator's name and sealed with a special "laboratory glass" tape. Boxes and tape are available in the Chemistry stockroom and from suppliers, and tape is also available from Biochemistry stores. If the printed tape is not available, the box can be sealed with other packaging tape as long as the box is well marked as containing "laboratory glass." Place the sealed box alongside your regular waste container for collection.

These boxes should never be used for sharps as defined above, biohazardous material, liquid waste, or chemical containers that cannot be disposed of as regular solid waste. To determine if lab glass or plastic that is contaminated with chemicals should be managed as chemical waste, see Empty Chemical Containers. Glass and plastic items contaminated with radioactive material should be disposed of as Radioactive Waste. Please refer to the Radiation Safety Manual for more information.

Plastic pipettes and pipette tips contaminated with biohazardous material should be placed in a container that is easily autoclaved and does not allow the tips to puncture it. One possible solution is to use a pipette box. An example of pipette box is shown below.

Pipette box

Disposal of Sharps and Other Biohazardous Waste

Sharps disposal, like all biological waste at the University of Washington, is dependent upon the location of generation. Please refer to the location-specific Biohazardous Waste Flow Charts below which summarize the proper packaging, treatment and disposal of biohazardous waste in the specified locations.


Biohazardous Waste Flow Charts

Please refer to the University of Washington site specific Biohazardous Waste Flow Charts.

If you have questions about sharps disposal or biohazardous waste in general, please contact Environmental Health and Safety Research and Occupational Safety at 206.221.7770 or ehsbio@uw.edu.

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