Hundreds of millions of tonnes of waste are generated in the UK every year. This impacts the natural world in two distinct ways – both of which relate to waste management.
The first problem occurs when waste items are discarded irresponsibly, polluting the oceans and land. Plastic waste, in particular, is endangering wildlife and poisoning sea life1.
The second issue is that waste items incorrectly segregated and disposed of mean that an unnecessary amount of waste is incinerated or treated. This creates more climate-changing emissions than are needed. Estimates show that emissions generated from waste incineration are comparative in size to those produced by traffic2.
The dental industry: reducing your environmental impact
Of course, the first solution should be to reduce the amount of waste generated in the first place. However, this is not always realistic and is often impossible within the dental industry. As such, attentions must focus on how the created waste is managed.
This highlights the importance of effective segregation and disposal of waste items. When waste products are properly identified and marked at source, they can follow the most appropriate disposal workflow. This prevents waste from being mistreated and left to pollute the environment. It also means that incineration and other energy-intense waste treatments can be reduced and only used in situations where they are absolutely required.
This is the concept on which the new NHS clinical waste strategy is based. This initiative by NHS England aims to help NHS providers improve waste management practices for enhanced sustainability by eliminating the overtreatment of waste. It is adopting a 20:20:60 approach to waste segregation and the new strategy is reflected in the updated HTM 07-01 guidelines.
Waste management protocols in the dental practice
Whether your dental practice offers NHS dental services or not, you have a responsibility to minimise your impact on the planet through effective waste management. This can be achieved by choosing more sustainable products where possible, ensuring adequate team training and having appropriate waste collection bags and/or containers.
The colour coding system, incorporated in the HTM 07-01 best practice guidelines, is an excellent way of teaching and reminding staff about good waste segregation protocols, even when they are busy. You can put posters up at the relevant waste collection points in your premises. These clearly detail what items go where, and encourage everyone to help make sure that waste is disposed of in the safest and least energy-intensive way.
Initial Medical offers colour coding posters that you can download from the website to support every aspect of your waste management and disposal protocols. We also offer a full range of colour-coded waste bags, containers and sharps containers to make waste segregation simple. The eco sharps containers are made from at least 40% recycled plastic. Rigid recycled cardboard waste containers are also available for soft clinical waste.
It may not be possible to reduce the amount of waste generated in your practice, but it is your duty to ensure all waste items produced are treated in the most appropriate way possible.
1 National Geographic. The world’s plastic pollution crisis explained. June 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/plastic-pollution?loggedin=true&rnd=1685024473945 [Accessed May 2023]
2 Deng QX, Feng JR, Gao PP, Ni HG. Combined effects of vehicles and waste incineration on urban air halogenated and parent polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Environment International. 2023; 171: 107720, ISSN 0160-4120, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2022.107720. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016041202200647X)