Clinical waste v General waste: what is the difference?

Clinical waste v General waste: what is the difference?

Every business generates its share of waste. The vast majority of this everyday rubbish is recycled or sent to a landfill.  Things get a little trickier when it comes to what’s known as medical or clinical waste. This might not be something your business has thought about but almost every firm generates some quantity of clinical waste. Schools, care homes, beauty therapists and sports clubs are often surprised to find out how much clinical waste they produce.

Most hospitals or care homes will already have a system in place for handling this waste.  However, thanks to Covid-19, more businesses will be affected by it. The pandemic has led to an increase in sales of single-use PPE equipment, which are considered clinical waste. A lot of companies are also preparing to receive Covid testing kits which will need to be disposed of safely. It has never been more important to ensure safety standards are being met. This will help us to protect ourselves, our customers, colleagues and the environment.

What is clinical waste?

Clinical waste is defined as ‘any waste that comes from medical or healthcare practices or activities’. In 2012 the UK environment agency outlined what counts as clinical waste in the Controlled Waste Regulations (CWR) Act. Clinical waste must not be disposed of in general waste containers and there are many regulation and classifications to be aware of.

Clinical waste includes:

  • Infectious items (bandages, masks, PPE, etc)
  • Drugs and medicines (including some containers)
  • Contaminated sharps and needles
  • Dental products
  • Tissue (animal or human)
  • Other items listed ‘hazardous’ by current standards

There is also what is known as ‘offensive’ waste. This covers any items that, while non-infectious, may be damaging to the environment or people handling it, such as: healthcare items, or waste emitting substances or odours.

Covid-19 Waste

It is currently predicted that some form of Covid-19 will be with us for years to come. Business practices have changed to reflect this and it is likely that new measures will be brought in as the situation develops. If your business generates any of the following waste it needs to be safely disposed of in clinical waste containers.

  • Covid-19 rapid test kits
  • Lateral flow test kits
  • Covid test swabs
  • Covid-19 PPE – gloves, masks, etc

What are the risks?

Anyone who produces or holds potentially dangerous waste has a responsibility to handle it safely. Failing to manage this ‘duty of care’ can result in heavy fines, negative publicity and even the closure of a business. As with all types of waste, it is important to make sure each item is properly disposed of or recycled. With clinical waste there are additional concerns over the safety of those who may come in contact with it. Mishandled clinical waste can pose a significant risk to the health of staff and customers.

How you dispose of clinical waste depends on what sort of items you are dealing with. In the UK there are different categories of waste. These have their own colour coded containers designed to keep you, and its contents, safe.

Safe disposal bins

There are many types of storage bins available for your clinical waste needs. Add to this a number of disposal bags and it can be a confusing subject. A lot of bags or bins come with labels, and making sure you use the right one is very important. Mishandled waste in the wrong container can cause a lot of problems. Here are a few of the most common types of bags and bins you can order. You can find full information on what bins and bags you may need here.


Where does clinical waste end up?

The majority of clinical waste cannot be reused or recycled and must be incinerated. Some items can be made safe via sterilisation or industrial treatment. Proper separation and handling is vital in reducing the amount that ends up in the wrong place. It is also important not to dispose of general waste in clinical waste containers. Clinical waste centres have capacity limits and any unnecessary waste that reaches these facilities can quickly have a knock-on effect to its efficiency.

Orange bags in particular can’t be mixed with other waste. They are shipped with a consignment note that needs to be signed by the waste collector. If clinical waste is mixed in with other forms of waste it can lead to dangerous cross contamination.

Unfortunately, not all clinical waste ends up in the right place. Interpol recently launched Operation Retrovirus to tackle the rising instances of clinical waste crime. The Covid-19 outbreak has pushed some clinical waste facilities to the limits of their capacity. To get ahead of the problem the international task force has been conducting inspections into the storage and transportation of medical waste.

Evidence of the damage done by mishandled clinical waste has been found around the world. An investigation into wildlife in Washington State in the US, found marine life had been exposed to heavy medication. This was from a local medical centre dumping small traces of spare medication. This is proof that even minimal amounts can build up over time and have a damaging effect on the environment.

We can help manage your waste

ESS can help you with any waste issues including clinical waste. If you are generating any clinical waste, we can make sure it’s handled safely and that you have all the required storage and disposal equipment you need.

We start with a free audit of your current waste measures, analysing the steps of your waste management process and the related costs. This gives us a great overview of changes you can make as well as any cost saving measures that may be applicable.

We stay up-to-date on government guidelines and regulations so you don’t have to worry about falling behind. Our goal is to make sure your waste management is the best it can be. For more information and to find out how we can help you with your waste issues contact us today.

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