Clinical Waste: Overcoming Challenges

29 August 2023
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Every year, NHS providers produce approximately 156,000 tonnes of clinical waste, equivalent to over 400 loaded jumbo jets. Hazardous or infectious, clinical waste cannot be recycled, usually ending up incinerated or sent to landfill. The significant environmental impact results in high costs and carbon emissions. 

Despite the range of challenges surrounding sustainable clinical waste disposal, there can be strategies implemented within businesses to help reduce the amount of waste in the first place. Reducing waste as well as improving compliance can save the NHS approximately £11m every year and reduce carbon emissions from waste by 30%, the same as removing 2 million road miles a year. 

What are the guidelines to store, segregate and handle clinical waste?

Bagged waste must be stored in fully enclosed and leakproof containers. Rigid waste containers should be in good condition, sealed and handled in an upright position. 

Clinical waste should be located away from sensitive perimeters and watercourses for public safety. Anatomical waste must be stored in refrigerated units unless they will be onsite for under 24 hours. Offensive waste must be stored in a secure building in fixed bulk containers. 

It’s important that these clinical waste regulations are always followed to protect the environment and human health. The Duty of Care laws state illegal disposal will lead to a business facing fines with an average of £7,000+, or prison time ranging from 12 months to 5 years.  

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Challenges in clinical waste management

Clinical waste management in the UK is a multifaceted challenge that demands a comprehensive and integrated approach. The current challenges include: 

  • Volume and variety: Managing such a diverse range and high volume of waste materials such as contaminated materials, pharmaceutical waste and other potentially hazardous substances poses a challenge due to the need for specialised disposal methods. 
  • Risk of infection and contamination: Improper handling of clinical waste can lead to infections and spread of disease if the waste is not segregated, stored, transported and treated appropriately. 
  • Legislative compliance: Ensuring compliance with strict regulations is essential but can be complex, leading to the risk of legal repercussions for non-compliance. 
  • Environmental impact: Incineration and improper landfill disposal can release harmful pollutants into the air, soil and water contributing to pollution and climate change. 

Best practice for healthcare facilities

Good waste management is critical to reducing the negative environmental impacts and applying best practice solutions helps to reduce operational costs which can be reinvested back into critical front line patient care. 

Quick Wins
All staff must place products nearing expiration in the most accessible position when replenishing stock
Environmentally friendly product alternatives that don’t compromise patient care or staff safety should be favoured
All organisations should educate staff about appropriate waste segregation and minimisation and display aide memoires to reinforce messaging
Review current purchasing patterns against use. Often there are opportunities to update purchase orders to reflect changes in clinical practice or preferences
More Effort Wins
All organisations should develop and promote facilities that allow the public to return medical equipment
When choosing a product for use in a healthcare setting, whole life cycle costs and environmental impacts should be considered during the decision-making process

Talk to the Zest Recycle team

Zest Recycle can provide a range of solutions to ensure your clinical waste is being handled securely and compliantly, such as clinical waste bags, wheelie bins, infection control containers and sharps boxes.  

As experts in clinical waste management, you can trust our team to identify the required containers and collection frequencies. From the correct and appropriate storage to specialist disposal, we will ensure your service is safe, secure and compliant. 

Why not StartFresh and talk to us today about your clinical waste requirements? 

If you need our support or advice on any clinical waste management initiatives, we’re just a phone call away. Contact us here. 

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