Managing Healthcare Waste Efficiently: A Comprehensive Guide to Clinical Waste

Healthcare facilities deal with a wide range of waste types but the most common is clinical waste (and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably). There are various hazards when working with healthcare waste, so responsible and effective management is vital. This helps protect patients, staff, and the environment.

Every healthcare organisation must have a strong waste management plan in place to ensure the safe and legal storage, removal, and disposal processes for clinical waste. Hospitals, doctor’s surgeries, dentists, care homes, and anywhere else that provides healthcare services will produce such waste. For example, NHS providers generate around 156,000 tonnes of clinical waste annually.

This guide helps you understand what healthcare waste is and how to deal with it effectively. Discover how to store, manage, and dispose of clinical waste responsibly in your healthcare organisation with this guide to efficient healthcare waste management.

doctor holding stethoscope with arms folded.

What is clinical waste disposal?

Clinical waste disposal is the method of getting rid of medical and healthcare waste in a safe way. It’s how everything from used bandages to blood bags, medication, and even body parts and anatomical waste are disposed of when they serve no further purpose. Methods of healthcare waste disposal vary depending on the waste type.

The most common form of clinical waste disposal is incineration. Medical waste is burned at high temperatures that destroy the organic substances and other materials that make up the waste. This reduces the risk of contamination or infection spreading from the waste materials that could harm humans and the environment if disposed of improperly.

Thermal disinfection is another kind of clinical waste disposal that’s more suitable for used bandages and gowns. High heat is applied to the waste to remove any potentially hazardous elements. This means the materials can then be recycled or recovered, which avoids the release of toxins and pollutants into the air that often comes with incineration practices.

What goes in clinical waste?

Clinical waste bins and bags are used to store all sorts of healthcare waste safely and securely before it’s removed and disposed of properly. This includes everything from masks and bandages to needles and blood bags. However, clinical waste isn’t just all thrown away together in the same bin, bag, or container.

There are different bins and bags for specific types of clinical waste. Often the colour of the bin/bag or its lid identifies the kind of waste that goes in it. For example, yellow clinical waste bins are for highly infectious waste such as contaminated gloves worn by a surgeon when operating, while red bins/bags are for anatomical waste.

Here are a few common examples of what goes in clinical waste:

  • Sharps – syringes, needles, and razors
  • Anatomical waste – tissue samples, blood bags, and body parts
  • Dental waste – teeth, grindings, and fillings
  • PPE – gloves, masks, and gowns
  • Infectious waste – wipes, contaminated PPE, and used bandages
  • Medicine – expired medication and empty blister packs

Is clinical waste hazardous?

Most clinical waste should be treated as hazardous unless it’s proven to be non-infectious. This is because many types of clinical waste pose a risk to the health of anyone they come into contact with and can harm the environment if not disposed of safely. It’s why many require high-temperature treatment for disposal.

Hazardous and non-hazardous clinical waste must be kept separate from the point of production and in storage before it’s removed and disposed of. This reduces the risk of harm to staff and patients, as it could spread infection and disease, while also preventing contamination of non-hazardous waste.

Examples of hazardous clinical waste include:

  • Infectious waste – anything contaminated such as PPE, dressings, and wipes
  • Sharps waste – both medicinally and non-medicinally contaminated
  • Anatomical waste – anything chemically preserved or that’s infectious but not chemically preserved
  • Cytotoxic and cytostatic medicine and contaminated instruments – like sharps and gloves contaminated with such medicine
Hazardous waste disposal

Offensive waste is the main kind of clinical waste that is not hazardous. It’s not pleasant but this kind of refuse presents no risk to human health. It should still be stored separately and safely and handled by professionals. Examples of non-hazardous clinical waste include:

  • Offensive waste – nappies, wipes, and gloves not contaminated with infectious elements
  • Non-infectious and not chemically preserved anatomical waste
  • Non-hazardous medicines including vials and packaging
facemask and syringes in a pile.

How to dispose of 
clinical waste safely

To dispose of clinical waste safely it’s important that you identify and separate waste by type as close to the point of production as possible. This helps reduce the risk of contamination and exposure to potentially infectious and hazardous materials. Create an effective waste management plan that highlights the healthcare waste your organisation produces and the processes to manage it.

This should include having the right type, number, and sizes of bins on your premises for the safe storage of all clinical waste produced. Place the relevant bins, bags, or containers as close as possible to the area where each type of healthcare waste is created. Ensure each one is colour-coded to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Train your staff so they know where to dispose of all clinical waste types produced in your facility and are aware of the risks of improper disposal. Then arrange regular removal of your clinical waste bins, bags, and containers by licensed waste carriers using a professional waste management company – such as Business Waste.

Book collections frequently so none of your healthcare bins overflow to help maintain safe and hygienic premises. Your clinical waste will be removed and taken to a waste management facility where it’s sorted and sent for appropriate disposal based on its type. For example, this could be incineration, thermal disinfection, or heat treatment.

Where to dispose of clinical waste

How and where you can dispose of clinical waste depends on whether you’re getting rid of it as a business or from your home. In either case, you should arrange collection of the clinical waste to ensure it’s handled, transported, and disposed of responsibly. The main places you can use for healthcare waste disposal are:

  • Households – you cannot take clinical waste to a household waste recycling centre (HWRC). However, some local councils collect and dispose of certain types of clinical waste such as used syringes, drugs, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Businesses – clinical waste is a type of commercial waste, which means any business or organisation must use licensed waste carriers to remove and dispose of it safely and legally. Arrange collection of your clinical waste by professionals and they’ll remove and transport it to an appropriate waste management facility that deals with medical waste. This ensures all the relevant processes are followed for responsible disposal.

At Business Waste we provide clinical waste collection and disposal services for organisations across the UK – from care homes to dental surgeries. Get a free no-obligation quote for any type and amount of healthcare waste collection. Just call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online and our expert team can answer any of your questions.

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