Initial Medical – The Purple Code

We continue to “Follow the Colour Code” with Initial Medical #followthecolour, this time looking at purple…

One of the rarest colours in nature, purple is the embodiment of luxury and nobility. Going back as far as 1900 B.C., purple dyes were originally produced from the mucus glands of a tropical sea snail known as the murex (Latin name purpura). With an estimated 12,000 shellfish needed to extract 1.5 grams of dye – enough for a single robe or Roman toga – it is easy to see why it become the colour of the richest and most powerful people in society.

Today, we understand that violet is the strongest visible wavelength of electromagnetic energy – perhaps this is why it has been given a supernatural aura and has been associated with the cosmos for centuries. Purple also symbolises magic, mystery, spirituality, creativity, imagination, dignity and royalty, although shade variations have slightly different meanings.

Light purples are thought to be more light-hearted, floral and romantic, while darker shades are more intellectual and dignified. More negative connotations of the colour include feelings of gloom, sadness, conceit, pomposity and frustration.

Purple tends to have a ‘marmite’ effect – people either love it or hate it – and so it might be unsurprising to learn that only two national flags contain the colour (Dominica and Nicaragua). In America, the ‘Purple Heart’ is a military award representing courage and bravery, while the purple amethyst stone is considered sacred to Buddha in Tibet. Purple symbolises wealth and wisdom in Japan, virtue and faith in Egypt and the future in Iran – a sun or moon that looks purple during an eclipse is an omen of bloodshed within the year.

In UK industry, purple is the colour allocated to cytotoxic and cytostatic waste streams. Cytotoxic and cytostatic substances are those that are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction and include medicines such as most hormonal preparations, some anti-viral drugs, immunosuppressants and some antibiotics.

The word cytotoxic means toxic to cells or cell killing and cytostatic means cell stopping. In cancer treatment, for example, chemotherapy is cytotoxic as it kills the cells. Cancer treatments that fight cancer cells by preventing them from multiplying are cytostatic.

While the care or treatment of cancer patients might be a common reason for purple waste production in hospitals and healthcare clinics, other procedures performed in dental or cosmetic practices such as botulinum toxin injections are also classified as ‘toxic’ and therefore allocated as purple waste.

Any tablet, liquid, cream or aerosol items contaminated with cytotoxic or cytostatic substances must be segregated and disposed of in yellow sharps containers with purple lids, as per the Department of Health’s waste disposal regulations.

Waste products in this category might include the following if contaminated:

  • Blister packs
  • Tablets in containers
  • Unopened medicine vials
  • Patches
  • Gloves
  • Gowns
  • Aprons
  • Wipes
  • Syringe bodies and tubing

Sharps waste might also fall into the ‘purple’ colour code including:

  • Syringes
  • Needles
  • Scalpel blades

There are various resources available to offer guidance for the professionals who handle and are responsible for the safe disposal of cytotoxic and cytostatic products. The myMedical online learning platform from Initial Medical is one such option that provides information on the different colour codes and the various types of waste dedicated to each colour. myMedical includes convenient online courses on many topics to help professionals develop their knowledge, with short tests and games to assist users in cementing their understanding and having confidence in the safety of their workplace.

Plus, for more details about the waste segregation and disposal process, Initial Medical’s ‘Follow the Colour Code’ campaign will give you everything you need to know.  Just visit or use #followthecolourcode on twitter.


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