Healthcare waste disposal

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Waste disposal in the healthcare sector

Effective waste management in healthcare prevents the spread of infections and diseases, ensures compliance with health and safety regulations, and protects the environment from hazardous materials. It also plays a vital role in managing the risk associated with medical waste, including sharps, pharmaceuticals, dental and chemical waste.


Waste management in healthcare

Like all businesses, GP surgeries, hospitals and other healthcare organisations in the UK are legally required to adhere to the waste hierarchy: prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling, other recovery, and disposal.

Here is a summary of how DEFRA’s latest guidance on applying the Waste Hierarchy applies to a typical GP surgery in the UK.

Sources: Thirsk Doctors Surgery – Greener practice , Addfield – Clinical waste to energy plant


Local medical practices can take significant steps to prevent unnecessary waste through effective inventory management. Without proper management, the short shelf life of medical supplies can result in substantial waste. GP surgeries can also reduce the need for single-use plastics by introducing reusable PPE and sharps bins.

Preparing for reuse

In clinical environments, the rules around the re-use of medical devices are understandably highly restrictive. However, charities like Project Cure offer solutions to donate medical equipment to where it is desperately needed, such as war zones.


Local GPs can introduce systems for recycling commonly used inventory, such as inhalers or medical equipment that comes with packaging. Surgeries can also increase their commercial recycling volumes by introducing segregated waste bins for both patients and staff, thereby preventing the cross-contamination of recyclable waste.

Other Recovery

In the waste hierarchy, ‘other recovery’ generally encompasses extracting green energy from waste that cannot be reused or recycled. Although its application is limited in a medical context, some local incinerators now facilitate energy extraction from medical waste.


Even following best practices for waste management in a GP surgery, you’ll still need to dispose of clinical and other waste. A reputable commercial waste collection company will provide appropriate commercial waste bins to store your waste before their regular collections. Your provider will give you a waste transfer note/consignment note to demonstrate you’ve fulfilled your compliance obligations in disposing of the waste produced at your surgery.

Get lower commercial waste collection costs by requesting commercial waste quotes today.

Types of waste disposal in healthcare

Waste disposal in healthcare is more complicated than you might expect. Here’s our summary of the most common types of waste disposal in the healthcare industry.

Sources: WRAP, preventing waste in healthcare, The evolution of advanced medical devices, Radioactive waste management in hospitals, NHS England: Health Technical Memorandum 07-01: Safe and sustainable



Healthcare facilities produce large quantities of medical waste that poses a risk of puncturing the skin which must be carefully stored in sharpes bins. Sharps waste includes used needles, scapels and lancets.

<h3>Radioactive waste</h3>

Radioactive waste

Medical imaging departments that use diagnostic techniques like CT and PET scans that utilise radioactive tracers and Oncology wards use radioactive material to target cancerous cells. Each produces radioactive waste that needs to be carefully stored and disposed of.

<h3>Other hazardous waste</h3>

Other hazardous waste

Aside from sharps and radioactive waste, there are several other specialist hazardous waste types that are produced in clinical settings. Below we’ve published a list of the official classifications associated with the healthcare sector.

<h3>Mixed electricial equipment</h3>

Mixed electricial equipment

Healthcare facilities generate commerical electronic waste primarily through the fast ageing cycle of computers and laptops used by staff, as well as the regular replacement of advance medical devices like ultrasound devices, blood glucose and pressure monitors.

<h3>Confidential Waste</h3>

Confidential Waste

Other healthcare facilities generate confidential waste, including sensitive patient records containing personal information and health records such as prescription information, test results, and medical images.

<h3>Mixed Dry Recycling</h3>

Mixed Dry Recycling

Healthcare centres produce a lot of non-contaminated dry mixed recycling, especially through the packaging used for the delivery of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, as well as plastic bottles and cans sold by the cafeteria and vending machines.

Waste management in the NHS

The NHS is one of the world’s largest employers and has recently released its Clinical Waste Strategy to improve the environmental impact of waste from the UK health sector.

The strategy is crucial due to the significant volume of clinical waste produced annually, approximately 156,000 tonnes, which impacts both the environment and taxpayer costs. The report focussed on the following six key areas:

  • Data: Enhancing the use of data for better waste management decision-making.
  • Workforce: Investing in workforce training and development for effective waste management.
  • Compliance: Ensuring strict compliance with regulations and standards in waste handling.
  • Commercial Practices: Improving commercial practices to reduce commercial waste collection costs.
  • Infrastructure: Developing and upgrading infrastructure for sustainable waste management.
  • Sustainability: Focusing on sustainability to reduce environmental impact and support the NHS’s net zero carbon commitments.

The strategy authors estimate that implementing the strategy could save the NHS £11 million annually and reduce carbon emissions from waste by approximately 30%.

Source: NHS clinical waste strategy – long read

Classification of hazardous waste in healthcare

Here’s a summary of the waste classification codes associated with the UK healthcare sector.

Waste CodeDescription
18 01 01Sharps (except 18 01 03)
18 01 02Body parts and organs including blood bags and blood preserves (except 18 01 03)
18 01 03Wastes whose collection and disposal is subject to special requirements in order to prevent infection
18 01 04Wastes whose collection and disposal is not subject to special requirements in order to prevent infection (for example dressings, plaster casts, linen, disposable clothing, diapers)
18 01 06Chemicals consisting of or containing hazardous substances
18 01 07Chemicals other than those mentioned in 18 01 06
18 01 08Cytotoxic and cytostatic medicines
18 01 09Medicines other than those mentioned in 18 01 08
18 01 10Amalgam waste from dental care

Source: Waste Classification Technical Guidance