Clinical waste is hazardous or harmful waste that cannot be disposed of in general waste receptacles. There are certain clinical waste disposal guidelines that help to ensure it doesn’t contaminate food or water supplies or otherwise harm the environment.

Clinical waste is often produced in hospitals, labs and clinics, and is also known as medical waste. It could be anything from human or animal tissue, to drugs or medicines, pharmaceutical products, swabs or dressings. But it can also be produced in any other type of business, or in a home. If businesses have a medical room or even a first aid kit, they should be aware of how to dispose of clinical waste safely and legally.

The guidelines for clinical waste disposal are outlined by HSE in management of healthcare waste documents. We’re here to make these guidelines simpler to follow.

What is clinical waste?

Clinical waste is the term used to describe waste produced mainly in healthcare or laboratory environments that poses a risk of infection when handled. There are many different types of clinical waste, each of which requires special care in the disposal. It is important that you understand what clinical waste is so that you can know how to dispose of it correctly.

Below are some of the main categories of clinical waste, specific examples of what items the categories contain, and what types of risk they pose.

Infectious waste containing pathogensLab cultures, infectious agents, wastes from isolation wards, or tissues, material or equipment that has been in contact with infected peopleHazardous to human health and the environment
Pharmaceutical wasteExpired or wasted medicines, drugs or pharmaceuticalsHazardous to human health
Pathological waste containing human tissue or fluidBody parts, human foetuses, blood, other bodily fluidsHazardous to human health and the environment
Chemical wasteSolid, liquid and gas chemicals from lab work, cleaning materialsHazardous to human health and the environment
Sharp wastesNeedles, infusion sets, scalpels, broken glassHazardous to human health and the environment
Radioactive wasteUsed substances from radiotherapy or lab workHazardous to human health and the environment
Pressurised containersGas cylinders, aerosols, cartridgesHazardous to human health and the environment
High heavy metal contentBatteries, broken thermometers, blood pressure gaugesHazardous to human health and the environment

Clinical waste disposal procedure

When considering disposal procedure, the first step is for the people responsible for disposing of the waste to know what they should be doing. Generally, people that handle clinical waste should:

  • Wear appropriate PPE, like gloves, aprons, face masks or overalls
  • Check all storage bags are effectively sealed and undamaged
  • Only touch bags at the neck
  • Clear accidental spillages promptly

Clinical waste should also be colour coded so that it is disposed of properly. This could mean choosing coloured clinical waste sacks to make it easier for workers to tell each type of waste apart.

Yellow bags contain waste intended for incineration. Yellow bags with a black band should be incinerated but can also be put on landfill. Light blue or transparent bags with blue inscriptions will contain waste intended for autoclaving or equivalent before disposal.

Group A waste disposal

Group A clinical waste could contain anything from human and animal waste, swabs, bandages, human tissue and single-use non-sharp instruments. This will be disposed of in a yellow bag, clearly marked, and stored in a safe designated area – double bagged to prevent leakage – until it can be sent to incineration.

Group B waste disposal

Group B clinical waste consists of sharps like needles, cartridges or broken glass. This should be disposed of in a yellow sharps bin – with a lid that means that the sharps cannot be removed once they have been placed inside the bin.

Group C waste disposal

Group C could contain pathological waste or microbiological cultures – found in labs.

Group D waste disposal

Group D consists of drugs, medicines or pharmaceutical products. These should be handled with care, and should be disposed of properly so as not to be at risk of being found by members of the public. These bags should be sealed tightly and shouldn’t be overfilled.

Group E waste disposal

Group E clinical waste will consist of bodily secretions not classed as Group A – this will be dependant on the sector and setting that the waste is coming from.