Practice Tip #124: The Do's and Don'ts of Amalgam Disposal

With amalgam separation requirements now in place, everyone should be familiar with the recycling of amalgam. This is not meant to be an official summary of the do's and don'ts, but just a little reminder of the proper way of disposing and handling of various amalgam collection devices. Here are just some of the highlights that you may or may not be aware of.

Always use personal protective equipment such as utility gloves, masks and protective eyewear when handling amalgam. When disposing of amalgam, do NOT use evacuation line cleaners that contain bleach or chlorine, which maximizes amalgam dissolution and contaminates waste water.

Although amalgam is considered a hazardous waste, it should never be disposed of any other way than through a recycler who complies with the ADA-ANSI standard. Amalgam capture is done through a chair-side trap, vacuum pump filter and an amalgam separator that collects amalgam particles.

Chair-side Trap: Collection Canister (#30-61)

There are two types of amalgam: contact and non-contact amalgam. Contact amalgam has been in contact with the patient, such as teeth with amalgam, a carving scrap collected at chair-side, and amalgam captured by chair-side traps, filters, or screens/debris baskets. Non-contact amalgam is excess material leftover at the end of a dental procedure and considered scrap.

All chair-side solid collection traps, vacuum pump filters, and amalgam separators that are used to retain amalgam must be recycled. These items cannot be rinsed out over drains or sinks and they cannot be reused. They also cannot be placed in biohazard containers, infectious waste containers (red bags) or regular garbage.   

  • For chair-side collection canisters, remove the trap and empty the contents into a wide mouthed, airtight container that is marked “Contact Amalgam Waste for Recycling.” The container must be well sealed and sent to a recycler when full. Replace the trap into the collection canister, but do not rinse the trap — as this could introduce dental amalgam into the waste water stream.
  • Teeth that contain amalgam restorations can also be recycled at this time, in the same container as the collection canisters, depending on your recyclers specifications. Teeth without amalgams are just considered hazardous waste and should be disposed of properly.
  • Vacuum pump filters must be removed and have a tightly sealed lid placed on the container. These too should be sent to the recycler when the container is full.
  • Amalgam separators that comply with ISO 11143 should be recycled properly following the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance and recycling procedures (see our disposal mailer options here). 
  • Extracted teeth with amalgam restorations must also be recycled properly in a sealed container with capsules and scrap.

Many dentists have implement or improved their handling of amalgam since the new regulations have been in place. No matter what kind of amalgam you are disposing of, amalgam can be disposed of properly without fear of office contamination. What kind of questions do you have about amalgam recycling?

More complete information and additional resources are published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, the ADA Division of Science, and available to ADA members online.