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Taking the headache out of healthcare waste

24 June 2013

Bound by strict regulations and with a potentially confusing range of classifications, effective healthcare waste management can seem a tall challenge. But having a clear method of segregating clinical waste at the point of generation can make the process much simpler – and significantly reduce costs.

Clare Noble, Managing Director at PHS Wastemanagement, explains how clinical waste need not cause a headache.

Healthcare practitioners are busy people with little time to deal with the waste generated as they deliver vital clinical services to patients. But if the by-products of healthcare are to be safely and effectively managed, it is crucial that the process starts with the frontline of healthcare provision. Segregating waste at the point of generation is vital to ensure the waste is disposed of correctly. Much can be done to help make this process run smoothly.

It is essential to understand the legal context of clinical waste management, ensuring that your organisation complies with The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA 1990) and the Hazardous Waste Directive 2011, as well as the Controlled Waste Regulations 2012. Fines for non-compliances are hefty.

Under the EPA 1990, waste producers have a clear duty of care to ensure that the treatment and disposal of wastes are ‘appropriate’, and evidence must be retained to demonstrate the rules have been adhered to, for example, in the form of consignment or transfer notes. This duty of care extends to anyone who produces, stores, transports, treats, or disposes of waste; all reasonable steps must be taken to keep the waste safe and legal, without causing harm or pollution at any stage.

The EPA 1990 also puts a responsibility on waste producers to segregate waste. The latest edition of the Safe Management of Healthcare Waste Memorandum (HTM 07:01) sets the standard for classifying different types of clinical waste and provides recommendations on how organisations can comply with waste legislation – and segregate waste effectively.

Boxed out Experts estimate that up to 70% of healthcare waste is currently being disposed of in the wrong container, which not only has significant financial implications, but could also pose potential hazards to staff and the wider environment.

For clinical waste segregation to work effectively the Environment Agency for the healthcare sector, recommends that colour coded bins, sacks and waste receptacles are provided to enable easy identification and are placed as close to the point of waste creation as possible. According to the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992, clinical waste falls into two broad categories infectious (hazardous) and non infectious (Non-hazardous).

The first covers any waste which can be harmful to human health and can consist of human or animal tissue, blood or other body fluids, excretions, drugs or other pharmaceutical products. The second category covers any other waste arising from medical, nursing, dental, veterinary, or pharmaceutical practices, investigation, treatment, care, teaching, or the collection of blood for transfusion.

The correct and proper segregation of clinical waste is clearly vital for safety reasons – it can also offer significant cost savings. Some healthcare organisations put all their waste, particularly non infectious or offensive waste items such as nappies, into infectious clinical waste bags, which are more expensive to dispose of than non-infectious waste bags.

It helps to know what eventually happens to the different clinical waste types to understand why the costs of disposal vary: infectious waste receptacles must be incinerated at special licensed facilities, while non infectious or offensive wastes can go to landfill. If one item of infectious waste goes into a non-infectious bag – the whole bag must subsequently be treated as infectious waste and incur the additional disposal costs.

PHS Wastemanagement’s healthcare waste collection, disposal and recycling service ensures that all the waste under the company’s duty of care is handled strictly in line with current legislation and according to best practice guidelines so that waste is controlled and disposed of in the safest and most environmentally effective way.

How can you fulfill your Duty of Care obligations?

• Ensure that your chosen waste carrier is fully licensed to handle your waste
• Complete waste transfer notes to document all the waste you transfer
• Keep records of all the waste you transfer for at least 2 years

Any organisation that produces clinical waste needs to ensure that those delivering frontline healthcare services clearly understand the difference between infectious/hazardous and non-infectious/non-harzardous waste. This can be readily achieved by providing clearly marked bins that are easily accessed and providing information, for example, posters, illustrating – at a glance – the colour coded system. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the general waste management principles of reduce, recycle and reuse also apply to healthcare waste.

From September 2011, European waste regulations introduced the Waste Hierarchy, which put the responsibility of waste management squarely on the shoulders of the producers. Producers must explore every avenue to ensure, wherever possible, that their waste has been reduced, reused, recycled or indeed recovered.

These additional rules will have a positive impact o our environmental and will help reduce the carbon footprint of every organisation around the UK as well as supporting their Corporate Responsibility policy and ISO accreditations.

With the right level of support and education from a licensed waste carrier, each member of an organisation can play their part in helping to manage clinical waste in a safe, responsible way that also reduces costs – making waste less of a headache for everyone.

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