Waste management in healthcare is crucial. Not only does the correct disposal of healthcare waste help keep people safe, but it is also more beneficial for the environment. So, how is healthcare waste categorised and why is proper waste management in healthcare so vital?
Safeguarding staff, patients and the planet!
Effective waste disposal in hospitals and other healthcare environments is paramount in order to help protect individuals against the spread of disease, and keep our natural environment safe.
Clinical and hazardous waste can impact the environment in many ways. For example, medications that are improperly disposed of may pollute waterways and poison wildlife, while certain materials, such as dental amalgam, can become toxic in marine environments.
Effective waste segregation and disposal also helps to prevent the spread of disease as individuals who come into contact with items contaminated with infectious substances are at risk of contracting illnesses.
The many types of healthcare waste
In a nutshell, healthcare waste is all waste generated in healthcare settings. These include hospitals, dental practices, doctor’s surgeries and laboratories. There is guidance in place to help professionals segregate the different waste streams, and it is your duty of care under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to do so effectively in order to keep people and the environment safe.
Here is a guide to how different waste is categorised. When disposing of waste, you will also need to describe the waste in the paperwork that you provide for the waste contractor and include a waste categorisation code (European Waste Catalogue EWC or List of Waste LoW):
Clinical waste is split into two separate groups – Clinical Infectious and Clinical Highly Infectious. Clinical Highly Infectious waste is contaminated with Class A pathogens, such as anthrax, plague and botulism and requires incineration in order to comply with clinical waste disposal guidelines. Examples of this clinical waste include swabs, bandages, dressings and
PPE garments that have come into contact with infectious bodily fluids.
Clinical Infectious Waste, on the other hand, can be hazardous and non-hazardous items that are contaminated with bodily fluids from a person who is, or suspected to be, carrying an infectious disease. An example of this type of waste is PPE worn by professionals when treating these patients.
Hazardous waste in healthcare, such as clinical waste, is especially important to segregate and dispose of properly as these are the waste streams most likely to cause disease transmission and other consequences if disposed of incorrectly.
Medicinal waste includes blister packs of pills, liquid medicines in bottles, tablets in containers and any other non-hazardous or denatured drugs that do not have any cytostatic/cytotoxic properties. This waste stream needs to be incinerated in order to protect people from accidentally using out of date medicines or to prevent these substances from inadvertently entering the natural environment.
Offensive (Tiger) Waste
Some items, such as colostomy bags, incontinence pads and nappies are categorised as Offensive waste (also known as tiger waste). These items are non-hazardous and non-infectious, but must be segregated from mixed municipal waste and can be recycled, incinerated or sent to deep landfill.
Certain medicines and drugs, such as botulinum toxin and those used for chemotherapy have cytostatic/cytotoxic effects. These must be segregated from other waste as they are potentially very harmful, especially to living creatures. This waste stream includes chemotherapy medicines, and any item that is contaminated with these medications such as needles.
Body parts, blood bags and blood preserves are all categorised as anatomical waste. You will mainly find this waste in places where surgical procedures are performed, and therefore it is a common component of waste generated in hospital procedures and cosmetic surgery. This waste requires incineration.
There are two types of dental waste, both of which can be dangerous in certain scenarios. Dental amalgam (used in fillings) needs to be segregated effectively as if it enters waterways it can cause numerous problems in marine environments. Gypsum, commonly used for dental models, can produce poisonous hydrogen sulphide gas when decomposing, so must be handled carefully and must not be sent to landfill or incinerated.
Mixed Municipal Waste
Mixed municipal waste is your standard waste similar to what you would but into a black bin bag at home. This includes waste paper, old brochures, dead flowers, food packaging and other items that pose no threat to humans or the natural environment.
Depending on your local council, these items may be recycled or sent to landfill.
Keep on top of your waste with Initial Medical
Initial Medical offers all settings numerous healthcare waste solutions that help ensure reliable and safe healthcare waste management. From colour-coded receptacles for each waste stream to tailored waste removal services that reflect the unique needs of your business – Initial Medical is on hand to help you with your healthcare waste needs.