A Laboratory Waste Disposal Guide

There are more than 16,000 laboratories in the UK – from university chemistry labs to hospital, medical, research and development facilities, and even computer labs. On average they carry out around 300,000 tests every day. All these experiments, research, and tests produce lots of waste materials each year – including 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste.

The importance of laboratory waste management can’t be underestimated. It must be stored, removed, and disposed of safely, legally, and responsibly to protect humans from exposure to potentially dangerous materials and to ensure no harm happens to the environment. There are various guidelines in place to reduce the risks when disposing of lab waste.

To help ensure your tests, experiments, and research run smoothly we’ve created this laboratory waste disposal guide. Discover how to manage and get rid of rubbish from any type or size of lab with these laboratory waste disposal guidelines for UK organisations.

Laboratory waste management
empty laboratory.

What is the definition 
of laboratory waste?

Any waste produced by laboratories in industry, medicine, research, and educational facilities (such as universities) is laboratory waste. This includes solid, liquid, and gaseous waste.. Waste from laboratories can be broken down into further categories with common materials including:

Most waste in laboratories is classed as hazardous or non-hazardous waste, which determines how it should be managed and disposed of safely. Even items such as a crisp packet thrown away in a general waste bin by someone working in the lab class as laboratory waste. Find more guidance on our laboratory waste management page.

Laboratory waste disposal guidelines in the UK

Laboratory waste disposal guidelines in the UK are governed by various laws, regulations, and legislation – there’s no single law. Before working with any materials in the lab that are potentially harmful to humans and the environment you must carry out a risk assessment. This includes when using chemicals, radioactive substances, biological agents, and animal by-products.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency are the main bodies that oversee lab waste disposal. They provide guidelines and advice around chemical waste and biological waste storage and disposal. Adhering to relevant regulations for lab waste disposal is essential, otherwise, you could face penalties including significant fines.

The main legal guidelines and legislation that cover laboratory waste disposal are:

  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2022 – employers must assess the risks associated with using hazardous substances under the COSHH Regulations. It includes health and safety risks related to the storage, handling, or disposal of any hazardous substances with measures to prevent and control exposure.
  • Hazardous Waste Regulations – organisations must make sure any hazardous waste produced in laboratories is segregated from non-hazardous waste. You have a legal responsibility to ensure it causes no harm or damage to humans or the environment. Hazardous waste must be stored safely, removed by licensed waste carriers, and disposed of properly under these regulations.
  • Radioactive Substances Act 1993 – this act regulates the storage and disposal of radioactive materials (including contaminated equipment). It prohibits disposal or accumulation of radioactive waste unless authorised by the Environment Agency. Any lab that creates radioactive waste should check they comply with the Radioactive Substances Act.
  • Environmental Protection Act 1990 – section 33 covers the storage and disposal of waste including that from laboratories. Section 34 places a legal duty of care on businesses for the safe and proper disposal of their commercial waste. The act also makes it an offence to dispose of waste in a way that may harm human health or lead to environmental pollution.
chemical bottles on a shelf in a lab.

Laboratory safety and waste management risks

The importance of laboratory waste management can’t be underestimated due to the potentially dangerous nature of some materials. Storing and disposing of all waste from a lab properly and responsibly is vital to minimise and eliminate associated risks, such as:

  • Waste material leaking from unsecured sharps bins and boxes
  • Split bags leaking waste
  • Injuries due to needles and sharps waste put in incorrect containers
  • Failures to destroy pathogenic organisms and/or genetically modified organisms
  • Pathogenic waste being stockpiled within a laboratory
  • Illness or injury to staff handling waste due to exposure to unsecured waste types

Safe storage of all waste produced in your lab is vital to reduce the risk of exposure to potentially dangerous materials that could harm human health. It’s also important to ensure your waste is accepted and removed by the licensed waste carrier who collects it. Improper storage could lead to waste being rejected and building up on your site, for reasons such as:

  • Lab waste placed in the wrong bins, bags, or containers
  • Sharps waste bins containing improper items
  • Contamination with different waste types mixed in one bin, bag, or container
  • Bins overflowing or exceeding their max fill lines or weight limits

How to dispose of lab waste 

To dispose of any type and amount of lab waste safely and legally you should use a commercial waste collection service – such as through Business Waste. Separate and store your lab waste in relevant bins, bags, and containers within any weight limits or max fill lines. Then arrange for licensed waste carriers to remove it.

Check that the waste carriers are authorised to collect and transport your lab waste. You should receive a duty of care certificate/waste transfer note that confirms the disposal method and location of your waste as proof it was managed legally and responsibly. Some steps to dispose of lab waste safely include:

  • Separate hazardous and non-hazardous waste – all waste types should be separated especially hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Check the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for any products if you’re unsure whether it’s hazardous or not.
  • Use the right bins – have a range of bins, bags, and containers in place across your lab to store all waste safely. This could include different coloured sharps bins, drums and barrels, clinical waste bags, and recycling bins. It makes separating waste at the point of production easy.
  • Install a fume hood and ventilation system – if your laboratory work releases dust or gases then having a fume hood or local exhaust ventilation system in place with filters can remove harmful materials from the air.
woman working in a laboratory.

Laboratory waste disposal methods

Various laboratory waste disposal methods exist with the appropriate option depending on the type and volume of waste. These include:

  • Drains – most liquid waste from a laboratory should be stored in an IBC container, drum, or other container and removed by licensed waste carriers. However, you can dilute some liquids with water and pour them down the drain in small amounts (such as concentrated and dilute acids and alkalis, harmless soluble inorganic salts, and fine (tlc grade) silica and alumina).
  • Autoclave – the use of autoclaves is common to destroy biohazard group 3 organisms and genetically modified organisms at class 3. They’re incinerated at temperatures of 134°C to safely dispose of potentially dangerous lab waste.
  • Chemical treatment – an appropriate concentration of disinfectant can be used to treat and destroy some types of lab waste.
  • Incineration – many kinds of waste from laboratories that can’t be recovered, reused, or recycled are incinerated. This provides a safe disposal and destruction method for the likes of animal byproducts.
  • Recycling – materials such as paper, cardboard, glass, and plastics should be recycled where possible (as long as there’s no contamination). They’re taken to recycling facilities for sorting, processing, and converting into recycled products.

Arrange waste collection and disposal from your lab anywhere in the UK with Business Waste. Get a free quote for waste removal today – call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online.

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