Clinical Waste

Syringes, unwanted pharmaceuticals, and contaminated dressings and medical equipment must be disposed of safely. This is easy enough if you know the ropes, or to whom to turn for help and guidance.

Clinical waste consists of medical waste that could pose a threat to public health unless properly disposed of. It is a category of hazardous waste, and has to be collected under tightly controlled conditions and disposed of by incineration. It cannot be put with normal rubbish. The process is legally enforced by strict government regulations.

What is clinical waste?

Clinical waste consists of four main categories:

  • Human or animal tissue, blood or bodily fluids, or excretions
  • Dressings or swabs
  • Unwanted medicines and other pharmaceutical products
  • Used syringes, needles and blades ('contaminated sharps')

Non-hazardous domestic medical waste, of the kind resulting from small injuries or minor illnesses, plus soiled nappies, incontinence pads and sanitary towels, do not - under normal circumstances - constitute clinical waste, and may be disposed of with domestic rubbish.

Who produces it?

Most clinical waste comes from the healthcare industries. This includes hospitals, GPs' surgeries, dentists' surgeries, nursing homes, acupuncture clinics, and vets' clinics. They can dispose of their clinical waste by special agreement with the local council.

Clinical waste from the home

Private individuals undergoing treatment at home may also produce clinical waste. They can find out how to dispose of this by discussing the matter with their GP, practice nurse, or district nurse. Typically, they will be given special yellow bags, and puncture-resistant 'sharps boxes' for contaminated sharps (hypodermic syringes, scalpel blades and so on), and these can be collected from the home by a dedicated service. Unwanted medicines and pharmaceuticals should, if possible, be returned to the pharmacist for disposal.

Criminal offence

Because of the harm that it might cause to others, it is a criminal offence to put clinical waste amongst ordinary rubbish. This applies also to drug addicts who fail to dispose of their needles appropriately.

Comments on this article

alison philip 22 January, 2013

I work in a nursing home and the manager says we can put non faecally soiled incontinence pads in the black bin domestic waste and not the clinical waste as it saves the nursing home money is this safe for us to do this. She says as long as its urine on icontinence pads and not faeces then this is ok to do this is this true

peter 16 May, 2013

legal definition of clinical waste reg act 1992/ current,
any waste which consists wholly or partly of human or animal tissue blood or other body fluids, excretions .
Healthcare wastes from patients with infections is clinical waste.
Go to page 3 clinical waste www.environment agency.gov.uk

Claire 1 April, 2014

Can gloves and aprons which are used in a care home to prevent cross contamination be put in the waste bins the incontanance pads go in?

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