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Veterinary Waste Disposal Guidelines

Hazardous Waste Regulations are the rules that govern how waste is managed in the UK. Whether you are a member of the public, a business, hospital, school or even a veterinary practice, your waste disposal is managed by these regulations.

Veterinary practices producing over 200kg of hazardous waste per year should register with the Environmental Agency. It is the responsibility of the waste producer to classify, segregate, package, label, and dispose of their waste safely. These same rules apply to both types of veterinary waste: hazardous and non-hazardous.

All waste should be subject to an item and patient specific assessment to determine the risk of infection or other hazards. There are two main responsibilities for businesses to consider: understanding what the legal requirements for waste disposal are, and having the correct waste management equipment to meet them.

Handling veterinary waste

All veterinary practices should register their premises, keep a Waste Register, and use Consignment Notes, as well as keeping this information for three years minimum. General waste should be veterinary risk assessed. The practice should ask the following questions:

  • Does the material arise from an animal that has a disease caused by a micro-organism, such that the material is contaminated with that micro-organism?
  • Is there any other potential risk of infection?

If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you are dealing with infectious, clinical waste that should be handled according to government guidelines.

What is hazardous veterinary waste?

Cytotoxic and cytostatic pharmaceuticals

These are medicinal products that are toxic, carcinogenic, toxic for reproduction or mutagenic.

They include glass bottles or vials, clinical items like swabs, gloves and masks, syringes and sharps and animal bedding.

Disposal of cytotoxic and cytostatic pharmaceuticals

Any sharps should be segregated into sharps bins immediately after use while other cytotoxic and cytostatic waste, such as gloves and masks, should be disposed of in their relevant waste disposal bin.

Contaminated sharps

Sharps should be subject to a separate risk assessment to determine the risk in their disposal. They may be contaminated with a substance that is a risk to human or environmental health, and therefore should always be disposed of properly.

This category covers partially and fully discharged hypodermic needles, and other sharp instruments and objects.

Disposing of contaminated sharps

Contaminated sharps should be separated into yellow sharps containers immediately after use. Non-contaminated sharps can be further separated into orange-lidded bins.

Infectious, clinical waste

Waste containing viable micro-organisms or other toxins is labelled as infectious, clinical waste. This waste must be disposed of correctly because it is reliably believed to cause disease in humans. Waste that is deemed a risk should also be classed in this category.

This category could include items used for treatment like swabs, bandages, masks and gloves, animal bedding and blood or body parts.

Disposing of infectious, clinical waste

These items should be separated into the appropriate containers immediately and sent for high temperature incineration. Some items can also be further separated for suitable alternative treatment, like autoclaving.

Chemical waste

Chemical waste, such as sterilisers and disinfectants, photographic chemicals, disinfectant, and x-ray solutions may be dangerous to human consumption if they enter the water supply in high quantities, and so should be disposed of properly.

Disposal of photographic chemicals

All liquid chemical waste, including those listed above, should be disposed of by being separated into leak proof containers immediately after use. The specific requirements for their disposal should be discussed with your waste removal provider.

What is non-hazardous veterinary waste?

Offensive waste

Veterinary non-hazardous waste is waste other than sharps that is not hazardous or clinical but may cause offense to the senses in some way. This waste will have undergone assessment that determined that it was not a risk to human or animal health.

Offensive waste could include swabs, masks and gloves, animal bedding and animal faeces.

Offensive waste disposal

Offensive waste should be disposed of in landfill or in other suitable permitted facilities.


Sharps are any materials that have a pointed edge and they can cause damage to humans by piercing the skin. They must be subject to a risk assessment to determine that they pose no risk of infection to animals or people.

Non-hazardous sharps might be an unused needle dropped on the floor that cannot be used, but if there is thought there could be a risk, however small, the sharp should be categorised as hazardous.

Disposal of sharps

Sharps should be disposed of immediately into the relevant sharps containers and disposed of by your waste provider.


Pharmaceuticals and other controlled drugs should be disposed of carefully as they may pose a risk to human or animal health if consumed.

This may include denatured controlled drugs, prescription medicines, out of date drugs and contaminated bottles, syringes, and packaging

Disposal of pharmaceuticals

All controlled drugs must be denatured or made not readily recoverable, and then disposed of with other pharmaceuticals. For Schedule 2 controlled drugs, this should be done in the presence of an authorised person.

Pet cadavers

Pet cadavers are transferred and disposed of under animal by product controls, except when the cadaver is suspected of harbouring a disease.

Disposal of pet cadavers

Pet cadavers can be released for burial at home, burial in a pet cemetery or cremation.

Why do you need to segregate and colour code waste?

In England and Wales, the mixing of waste streams is prohibited by law. The waste producer is legally required to correctly segregate, label, package and store their waste. In Scotland, this isn’t covered by the law but is still considered best practice.

The national colour-coded segregation system identifies and segregates waste on the basis of waste classification and suitability of treatment/disposal options.

When segregating waste you must consider both the appropriate waste stream (colour coding) and the appropriate packaging.

UK healthcare waste colour coding

The table below shows the commonly used colour coding system for both hazardous and non-hazardous waste that you might come across in a veterinary setting.

YellowHazardous waste to be incineratedWaste that falls under the hazardous waste category and is suitable for incineration
OrangeHazardous waste that needs treatment before disposalWaste that falls under the hazardous waste category and requires specific treatment before disposal
PurpleHazardous medicinal wasteCytotoxic or cytostatic medicines, or items that have been contaminated by them
BlueNon-hazardous medicinal wasteMedicines
Black and yellow stripesNon-hazardous offensive wasteVeterinary blood or other bodily fluids/excrements
BlackDomestic wastePackaging