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Waste Legislation


Here are some commonly asked questions about our services:

Do you offer no-obligation advice?

We’re always happy to talk. You can contact us anytime if you have any problems or just wanting some advice on all aspects of clinical waste management. We also offer a free survey service that includes a site visit and expert advice on the best solution to meet your needs.

What is Clinical Waste?

Clinical waste is defined in the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992. It refers to any waste that consists wholly or partly of:

  • Human or animal tissue
  • Blood or bodily fluids
  • Excretions
  • Drugs or other pharmaceutical products
  • Swabs or dressings
  • Syringes, needles or other sharp instruments which, unless rendered safe, may prove hazardous to any person coming into contact with it.

Clinical waste also refers to any other waste arising from medical, nursing, dental, veterinary, pharmaceutical or similar practice, investigation, treatment, teaching or research.

What controls are there on the disposal of clinical waste?

There are stringent controls in place to ensure that clinical waste is managed safely and is recovered or disposed of without harming the environment or human health. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 it is unlawful to:

  • Deposit, recover or dispose of controlled (including clinical) waste without a waste management licence
  • Contrary to the conditions of a licence or the terms of an exemption
  • Dispose the clinical waste in a way which causes pollution of the environment or harm to human health.

Contravention of waste controls is a criminal offence.

What about clinical waste produced in a private household?

If a patient is treated in their home by a community nurse or a member of an NHS profession, any waste produced as a result is considered to be the healthcare professional’s waste. If the waste is non-clinical, and as long as it is appropriately bagged and sealed, it can be disposed of with household waste. This is usually the case with sanitary towels, nappies and incontinence pads, which are not considered to be clinical waste when they originate from a healthy population. If the waste is classified as clinical waste, the healthcare professional can remove that waste and transport it in approved containers (ie, rigid, leak-proof, sealed, secured etc) and take it back to the Trust base for appropriate disposal. Alternatively, the Trust can make arrangements for the disposal of the waste with an appropriate waste contractor. When patients treat themselves in their own homes, any waste produced as a result is considered to be their own. Only where a particular risk has been identified (based on medical diagnosis) does such waste need to be treated as clinical waste. In these cases, local authorities are obliged to collect the waste separately when asked to do so by the waste holder, but they may make a charge. In the case of pharmaceuticals, the recommended means of disposal is to return them to a pharmacist.

Does the quantity of waste produced affect its classification?

Human hygiene waste can sometimes be produced in large quantities in places such as schools, nurseries and motorway service areas. Although such waste from these sources may be non-clinical, in quantity they can be offensive and cause handling problems. In these cases, where the premises generate more than one standard bag or container of human hygiene waste over the usual collection interval, it is considered appropriate to package it separately from other waste streams.

Are there any special arrangements for hypodermic needles produced in the home?

Sharps bins can now be obtained on prescription (FP10 prescription form) and can be returned to your doctor for disposal when full. There is also a duty on local authorities to collect and dispose of household generated waste including clinical/sharps waste. However, collection of clinical/sharps waste must be specifically requested, and local authorities may charge for the service. On no account should soft drink cans, plastic bottles or similar containers be used for the disposal of needles, since these could present serious hazards to people if they were disposed of in domestic waste.

Isn′t some clinical waste classified as special waste in Scotland?

A certain proportion of clinical waste is classified as Special Waste in Scotland and is subject to the additional controls under the Special Waste Regulations 1996. These require that all movements of special waste be tracked through a system of pre-notifications and consignment notes until they reach a waste management facility. SEPA is responsible for administering the regulations and has decided that, beside prescription-only medicines which are statutorily defined as special and sharps waste containing residual prescription-only medicines, the only clinical wastes to be dealt with as special waste are those that contain microbiological agents belonging to hazard group 4 which covers pathogens that usually cause severe human disease, can be readily transmitted between individuals and for which effective treatment and preventative measures are not usually available.

How can Initial Medical help me?

We are the first port of call for expert advice on the complex issue of clinical waste management and for safe, reliable and cost-effective collection, transport and disposal services. We work with a vast range of organisations right across the country, delivering a bespoke solution to each that blends the best products on the market with local service teams working in partnership with you to ensure regulatory compliance. Learn more about how we work with organisations like yours.

How do you keep up with all the regulations and requirements?

There is no doubt that this can be a difficult area to get to grips with. Managing clinical waste correctly means understanding and applying the specific waste regulations, as well as health & safety, packaging, transport and environment law. That’s why we have a senior expert in-house who monitors the regulations and our compliance, provides specialist training to our people. Our expert can offers you experienced and knowledgeable advice whenever you need it.

We currently use someone else. Is it a problem to change supplier?

We understand that you want to avoid any hassle – let alone any disruption to service – in changing suppliers. We have developed straightforward transition procedures that will help ensure your move to Initial Medical is smooth and problem-free. We’ll work closely with you to make sure this process is handled efficiently, effectively and sensitively.