Neiman-Marcus pulled red designer trash bags from its Northwest Washington store yesterday after Maryland garbage collectors complained that the bags could be mistaken for red bags normally used for infectious waste.

Alan Bergsten, head of Montgomery County's Division of Solid Waste Management, said red is an alert signal to trash collectors, usually meaning that the bag contains infectious waste that should remain inside a hospital.

The red bag warning is "a generally accepted item in the solid waste business. If there are a whole lot {of the Neiman-Marcus bags} out there, they're going to give us a fit," he said.

Neiman-Marcus has its headquarters in Dallas; one of its 22 stores is located on Wisconsin Avenue NW adjacent to Montgomery County. The company has no stores in Maryland. The bags had been advertised in the store's catalogue since September.

According to Harold Nelson, vice president and general manager of the Neiman-Marcus branch on Wisconsin Avenue, customers who bought the bags will get a full refund if they return them any time. The bags were priced at $5 for 30 of the 13-gallon size and $6.25 for 20 of the 33-gallon size.

Nelson said the trash bags were removed from the shelves of the Northwest store yesterday, and that the unsold bags, totaling 3,000 to 4,000, would be donated to the Hospital Association of Baltimore.

Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Maryland's Department of Environment, said the red bags would have created major difficulties for trash collectors.

"In Maryland, waste in red bags cannot be landfilled or placed in an ordinary incinerator . . . . The red sends out a signal that ordinary disposal is a 'no-no,' " said Feldman. "It would have been a lot easier if Neiman-Marcus had selected blue or green."

Jan Roberts, a store spokeswoman in Dallas, said Neiman-Marcus has received no complaints about the red bags from states other than Maryland, adding that apparently red is not a universal alert for trash collectors.

"The city of Dallas purchases red trash bags for when they're picking up trash off the streets," she said.