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PPE waste collections and disposal

What is PPE?

Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) is any personal equipment used to protect individuals from hazards they may be exposed to. It is used in many different workplaces, although the most common example is its use by doctors, nurses, carers, and other frontline staff from infections in the workplace. This typically includes clothing and headgear, and so includes items like disposable gloves, protective aprons and gowns, as well as any facemasks or eye protection. Workers in factories or construction may use PPE to protect themselves from fumes. The term also includes hearing protection, such as ear defenders, where workers are exposed to significant amounts of noise, as well as hard hats, protective footwear and high visibility clothing to help workers avoid physical hazards.

Who uses PPE?

The use of PPE has become commonplace in a number of settings. It is a critical protective measure being deployed throughout hospitals; all healthcare staff should now be equipped with PPE, regardless of whether they are dealing directly with COVID-19 patients or not. Due to the prevalence of non-symptomatic patients who may unknowingly spread the virus, staff in all patient-facing areas of the hospital will be equipped with protective gloves, masks, gowns and eye protection as standard.

Staff in care homes and other residential care settings such as special needs schools, delivery workers or supermarket staff, as well as those working with the public in clinics and pharmacies are likely to have been advised to adopt the wearing of PPE as part of their daily routine.

Elsewhere, the manufacturing and construction industries are, of course, still heavily reliant on PPE for protection – protection from dangerous chemicals or fibrous minerals such as asbestos is critical. Workers in industries which include the use of heavy machinery will use PPE to protect their hearing, as will the military when conducting firing practices on ranges.

What type of waste is PPE classed as?

PPE can be classed as either disposable or non-disposable. Protective clothing used in the manufacturing industries, such as hard hats, steel-toed boots and high visibility vests will commonly be issued to an individual and used until they are worn out. Other PPE such as disposable fume masks, temporary hearing protection or hospital gowns will be used on a single occasion and disposed of.

It is important to understand if your waste includes any hazardous material. In the UK, it is illegal to mix hazardous waste in with standard waste disposal. Much of the disposable PPE in use will have been exposed to health hazards, and thus qualifies as medical waste. There are four classifications of medical waste in the UK, but infectious waste is the most common of these categories. Any PPE that is used in hospitals or settings where COVID-19 is thought to be present is automatically classified as infectious waste.

How should you store PPE waste?

All infectious waste must be disposed of in dedicated thick plastic storage sacks. These are to be sealed and placed into lockable plastic bins. These bins should be kept locked when not in use, and only collected by a medical waste management company. The same applies to PPE exposed to harmful or corrosive substances.

Most PPE designed for physical protection, such as hard hats and boots will not be classified as harmful and can be disposed of alongside normal business waste.

How do you dispose of PPE correctly?

Hazardous or infectious PPE should only be handled formally by a professional waste management company. This type of waste will typically need to be collected for incineration, so it should not be disposed of alongside normal rubbish.

What happens to PPE once it’s collected?

Once these bags are collected by dedicated waste disposal teams, the resultant waste may be separated. Hard waste will be sent for incineration as this is considered to be the safest way to destroy any infectious pathogens which remain on the surface of the PPE. Softer waste may also be incinerated, although in some waste disposal centres there will be facilities suitable for steam sterilisation, typically using an autoclave.

How can I arrange for safe and effective PPE disposal?

Whatever your PPE disposal needs, Business Waste is here to help. No matter where you are in the UK, we can provide dedicated medical waste disposal services to suit your needs. Quick and easy to set up, and offering a totally reliable service, we can provide a highly cost-effective way to safely dispose of all of your PPE waste. Get in touch with our friendly team for advice and guidance on the best service to cater to all of your needs.