It is estimated that hospitals generate about 176,762.5 kg/year. Labeling for Medical Waste presents an ideal introduction and the necessity for permanency. Without permanent labeling, the crucial roles that medical labels play become irrelevant.
Medical waste can be categorized into several classifications. Each has distinct requirements. Regulated Medical Waste containers, for example, have very specific and important job descriptions.
Securely storing and transporting biohazardous medical waste may pose a serious threat. It may be in the form of exposure to disease and other potentially harmful pathogens.
Medical waste container labels serve a specific and vital purpose. It provides proper instruction that includes warning, storage, and handling information related to the container. People can stay protected as these labels inform users about their hazardous contents.
Both the container and its label must remain intact throughout.
Some Industries Utilizing Medical Waste
- Hospitals, Healthcare Facilities, and Surgery Centers
- Laboratories and Blood Banks
- Doctor’s Offices and Veterinary Clinics
- Dental Offices
- Long-Term Care and Hospice Industry
- Funeral Homes
- Pharmacies and Pharmaceutical Industry
Most medical waste containers are made of high-density polyethylene plastic (HDPE). This plastic is chosen specifically for its superior performance. It also offers puncture and chemical resistance, ease of sanitization, and long service life as a reusable product.
The performance properties make HDPE a versatile material for reusable medical waste containers. It also makes it problematic for today’s common “adhesion-based” warning labeling methods.
E.g., pressure-sensitive adhesive, in-mold, hot stamp foil, heat transfer, silk screen, pad printing, and more. These problematic characteristics include the following:
Non-Polar, Low Surface Energy
As one of the most “non-stick” plastics in the world today, the “stickiness” of HDPE closely resembles the characteristics of Teflon®, meaning it ultimately rejects adhesion.
Expansion and Contraction
These plastics naturally expand and contract within hot/cold environments at 18x more than metals. The adhesion-based labels made of foreign material will expand and contract faster than the container. It’s like a band-aid applied over a knuckle. The expansion and contraction of the plastic container will cause the label to fail.
Plastics like HDPE have microscopic pores which release gas in a process called ‘outgassing.’ After molding, these plastics naturally outgas over long periods, causing labels to bubble and lose adhesion.
In addition to these natural characteristics, medical waste containers are consistently subjected to extremely harsh environments. Sanitation cycles, extreme temperatures, chemicals, and pressure washing further degrade or delaminate adhesion-based labeling.
Real-world examples prove that adhesion-based labeling methods continuously fail in their duty to inform and warn. These failed labels leave users uninformed and exposed to contents inside, and the label has also become an unintended safety risk.
Damaged label construction layers and exposed adhesives become safe-harbor sites where medical waste pathogens colonize and multiply, protected from disinfectants and sanitization practices.
A medical waste container without permanent, fully integrated labeling is a major threat to the safety of everyone involved.
Damaged or missing medical labeling fails to meet regulatory requirements. It leads to containers and their contents being improperly stored, transported, or disposed of, which may even prove life-threatening.
To say that permanent labeling on medical waste containers is important would be a severe understatement.
29 CFR 1910.1030, one of the standards regulating medical labeling, states under part D that “Labels shall be affixed as close as feasible to the container by string, wire, adhesive, or another method that prevents their loss or unintentional removal.” The intent labels are intended to be permanently displayed on the containers without the potential of removal.
The issue is most medical waste containers are made from polyolefin thermoplastics, being naturally resistant to adhesives. As mentioned, adhesive-based labeling will serve only some of the long-term requirements.
Furthermore, the language used leaves the responsibility of sourcing the correct labeling in the laps of manufacturers, who often look to label suppliers for guidance. Label suppliers of pressure-sensitive adhesive labels have relied on outdated performance guidelines that test for permanency.
But testing has always been conducted on adhesive-based labels applied to a “standard” high surface energy stainless steel, glass, or aluminum, which is then tested for chemical durability.
If the label passes these tests, they’re considered permanent and sourced to the medical container manufacturer for use in their polyolefin thermoplastic products.
The missing factor is performance testing isn’t conducted on labels applied to low surface energy thermoplastics. Because the permanency factor lies where adhesive meets and holds to the thermoplastic, it’s the most important test to ensure medical labels meet the requirement.
A simple way to ensure that a label performs according to requirement no matter the material the label will be applied to is to mandate that new language in testing standards be implemented, as shown below.
Test surfaces are to be of the same material employed in the intended application or a representative test surface. When a representative test surface is used, the surface shall be of the same generic type, surface finish (e.g., smooth or textured), and surface geometry (e.g., flat or curved) as the intended application.
Reducing Waste in The Medical Industry
Another area for improvement with traditional labeling methods that needs to be addressed is that they contribute to two types of waste. One type occurs when traceability labels become damaged, fail, or separate.
Not only is important data about containers and contents lost, creating confusion on whereabouts that leads to procedural waste for the organizations and personnel involved, these failed labels end up littering the environment.
A second type of waste exists due to traditional “foreign material” labeling methods incompatible with fully recyclable polyolefins.
Why Permanent Labeling Matters
The importance of permanent labeling for plastic parts in the medical industry cannot be overstated. Not only do failed labels contribute to a serious hazard in the form of uninformed handlers or even bacteria-harboring adhesive layers within the label itself, but they also contribute to the loss of crucial data and tracking information.
To meet the permanent needs and requirements of medical labeling, label suppliers must supply both label and performance data proving the permanency of polyolefin thermoplastic medical products.