Clinical waste – both Orange Clinical/Infectious and Yellow Clinical/Highly Infectious – is one of the most common waste streams in healthcare settings. However, are you certain that you are segregating this waste correctly as well as disposing of it in an ethical, environmentally friendly way?
What is clinical waste?
The Controlled Waste Regulations legislation from 1992 defines clinical waste as ‘Any waste which consists wholly or partly of human or animal tissue, blood or other body fluids, excretions, drugs or other pharmaceutical products, swabs or dressings, or syringes, needles or other sharp instruments’.1
In healthcare settings, this means that a large proportion of items being disposed of can be categorised as clinical waste, depending on what the item has been used for. This is often where confusion occurs.
For instance, if a syringe has been used to administer anaesthetic, it is classed as clinical waste. However, when a syringe is used to inject botulinum toxin, this would instead be classified as cytostatic/cytotoxic waste due to the properties of the chemicals inside. As such, it’s always a good idea to ensure that your team is aware of the exact classification of clinical waste so that items are disposed of correctly.
Why correct clinical waste management is vital
One of the largest concerns surrounding incorrect clinical waste disposal is the risk of infections spreading. The World Health Organization estimates that 15% of clinical waste is infectious.2 However, all it takes is one item harbouring infectious pathogens to be improperly disposed of to put people at risk.
An example of this could be a syringe finding its way into mixed municipal (general) waste. If the patient treated using the syringe is carrying a bloodborne disease such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV, then this could be transferred should an individual who comes into contact with the discarded needle injure themselves.
Incorrect disposal of any type of waste is also bad for the natural environment and wildlife that lives there. Clinical waste items may be toxic or cause injury through sharp edges/points.3 Additionally, clinical waste often includes materials such as plastics that don’t naturally biodegrade.
If these were to enter marine environments or other waterways, these plastics could steadily disintegrate, forming microplastics that could accumulate in the bodies of marine life.4 In fact, plastic waste is responsible for an estimated 100 million deaths of marine animals each year, including fish, seals, sea birds and more.5
As such, correct clinical waste disposal is necessary from both an infection control and eco-conscious perspective.
Explore green disposal options
To help settings be more sustainable with their clinical waste disposal, Initial Medical has introduced Sustainable Clinical Waste Bags. These are made using 30% less plastic, but still provide the necessary tear and impact-resistant properties to ensure they’re a reliable solution.
Initial Medical also supplies Rigid Cardboard Waste Containers. These are constructed from recycled cardboard and have a high-density polyethylene liner, making them suitable for dry and infectious waste while being an eco-friendlier option.
1 Legislation.gov.uk. The Controlled Waste Regulations 1992. Link: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1992/588/regulation/1/made [Last accessed December 22].
2 World Health Organization. Health-care Waste. Link: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/health-care-waste [Last accessed December 22].
3 WWF. Waste Disposal. Link: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/knowledge_hub/teacher_resources/webfieldtrips/waste_disposal/ [Last accessed December 22].
4 Plastic Action Centre. How Plastics Break Down Into Microplastics. Link: https://plasticactioncentre.ca/directory/how-plastics-breakdown-into-microplastics/#:~:text=When%20larger%20pieces%20of%20plastic,eventually%20reduced%20to%20microplastic%20particles. [Last accessed December 22].
5 Condor Ferries. Ultimate Roundup of Marine Pollution Facts: The Causes and Impact on both Marine and Human Life. Link: https://www.condorferries.co.uk/marine-ocean-pollution-statistics-facts#:~:text=BY%20POLLUTION%20STATISTICS-,How%20many%20marine%20animals%20die%20each%20year%20from%20pollution%20and,just%20the%20creatures%20we%20find! [Last accessed December 22].