Hospital waste management

Save on commercial waste collection quotes today

Just enter your postcode…

How much could you save?

Start saving now

If you have multiple properties, please put post code of your head office.
  • Save with competitive quotes
  • Compare local trusted providers
  • Improved service and reliability

Hospital waste management in numbers

<h3><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">133,000</a></h3>


The NHS creates 133,000 tonnes of plastic annually but only 5% is recyclable.

<h3><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">200,000</a></h3>


Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust alone eliminated 200,000 single-use plastic items from its waste.

<h3><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">156,000</a></h3>


NHS providers in England produce approximately 156,000 tonnes of clinical waste each year, equivalent to over 400 loaded jumbo jets.

Compare hospital waste collection services

Compare hospital waste collection services to benefit from:

Cost savings

Cost savings

Hospitals can compare commercial waste collection services to find cost-effective solutions for safely handling complex medical waste.

Service reliability

Service reliability

Hospitals require reliable waste services that can adapt to changes in waste volume and provide consistent collection without disrupting healthcare operations.

Specialised handling

Specialised handling

Hospitals need services to safely manage and dispose of hazardous wastes like cytotoxic materials and radioactive substances.

Hospital waste disposal

Effective disposal of hospital waste is critical to preventing environmental contamination and safeguarding public health.

Explore the stringent protocols and innovative practices that ensure safe waste management in healthcare settings.

We will cover the following subjects in detail:

Hospital waste streams

The ‘First, do no harm’ principle in medical ethics protects patient safety.

Like other aspects of healthcare, effective waste management is also essential for protecting the health of patients, staff and the wider environment.

Our experts break down the various waste streams within healthcare facilities, emphasising the importance of proper disposal techniques and segregation practices.

<h3>Clinical waste</h3>

Clinical waste

Clinical waste includes waste contaminated with bodily fluids, blood, or other infectious materials. It poses a risk of infection and is typically disposed of through incineration or autoclaving. This category includes used swabs, bandages, and gloves from patient care.

<h3>Pharmaceutical waste</h3>

Pharmaceutical waste

Expired, contaminated, or no longer-needed drugs fall into this category. Pharmaceutical waste can be hazardous and requires careful disposal to prevent pollution and misuse.

Pharmaceutical waste also includes discarded medications and contaminated bottles or blister packs.

<h3>Sharps waste</h3>

Sharps waste

Sharps waste includes any device or object used to puncture or lacerate the skin. This category is highly hazardous as it can cause injuries and spread infections.

Sharps include needles, syringes, blades, and lancets. They are usually disposed of in rigid, puncture-resistant containers.

<h3>Dry mixed recycling</h3>

Dry mixed recycling

Dry mixed recycling in hospitals includes non-contaminated paper, cardboard, plastics, and aluminium cans, often originating from administrative areas.

These materials must be separated at the source to prevent clinical or hazardous waste contamination. This will enable them to be recycled effectively and reduce the environmental impact of hospital waste.

<h3>Chemical waste</h3>

Chemical waste

Chemical waste includes discarded solvents, disinfectants, and other substances used in medical procedures or cleaning.

Chemical waste can be toxic, corrosive, flammable, or reactive and must be handled according to strict safety standards to prevent harm to health and the environment.

<h3>Radioactive waste</h3>

Radioactive waste

Waste containing radioactive substances, such as materials used in radiation therapy or certain diagnostic imaging, requires specialised facilities for safe shielding and containment during disposal.

<h3>General waste</h3>

General waste

This includes waste that poses no biological, chemical, radioactive, or physical hazard. Examples include office paper, kitchen waste, and non-contaminated packaging.

Depending on its nature, this waste can often be recycled or disposed of with regular commercial waste.

<h3>Cytotoxic waste</h3>

Cytotoxic waste

Cytotoxic waste is specific to cancer treatments and includes any material contaminated by cytostatic or cytotoxic drugs. This type of waste is highly toxic and requires special procedures to ensure it does not pose a risk to handlers or the environment.

<h3>Anatomical waste</h3>

Anatomical waste

Consists of body parts, organs, and tissues from surgery or research. It is considered highly sensitive and must be disposed of according to specific legal and ethical guidelines, typically through incineration.

Waste minimisation strategies for hospitals

Our experts present key strategies hospitals can employ to reduce waste and enhance sustainability.

We delve into practical approaches for cutting waste at the source, improving recycling efforts, and implementing more efficient waste management practices.

<h3>Streamlined procurement processes</h3>

Streamlined procurement processes

Hospitals can minimise waste by enhancing their procurement processes to prevent overordering and the accumulation of stock that may expire.

For instance, adopting just-in-time inventory systems can significantly reduce the storage of perishable and non-perishable items, decreasing waste from expired products.

<h3>Enhanced segregation systems</h3>

Enhanced segregation systems

Hospitals can enhance the effectiveness of recycling programmes by implementing well-marked and strategically placed segregation systems for various types of waste (clinical, recyclable, general).

This also reduces the contamination of waste streams, thus decreasing the volume of waste sent for costly treatments like incineration.

<h3>Reprocessing medical devices</h3>

Reprocessing medical devices

Hospitals can reduce medical waste and supply costs by initiating programmes to clean, sterilise, and reuse certain medical devices typically designed for single use, such as surgical instruments and catheters, following strict health and safety guidelines.

<h3>Digital documentation</h3>

Digital documentation

Transitioning from paper to digital records can drastically reduce the amount of paper waste generated by hospitals. Implementing electronic health records (EHRs) manages patient information electronically, eliminating the need for multiple physical copies.

<h3>Food waste management</h3>

Food waste management

Hospitals can significantly reduce food waste by improving meal forecasting based on patient counts and preferences.

Unused food that meets safety standards can also be donated to local shelters, or organic waste can be composted

<h3>Chemical management improvements</h3>

Chemical management improvements

Minimising the volume and variety of chemicals stored on-site can reduce the risk of chemical waste. For example, adopting microfiber mopping systems can decrease the need for chemical-based cleaners, thus lowering the amount of expensive hazardous waste hospitals produce.

💡Did you know

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) manages a substantial amount of waste, with healthcare providers in England generating nearly 600,000 tonnes annually.

This figure underscores the considerable challenge and cost associated with waste management in the healthcare sector, estimated at around £700 million annually.

Hospital waste removal strategies

Navigating the complexities of hospital waste management is crucial for ensuring environmental safety and maintaining public health standards.

By segregating waste at the source, hospitals can minimise risks and enhance sustainability efforts effectively.

Our experts break the strategy down further:

<h3>Clinical waste bins</h3>

Clinical waste bins

Placement: Near patient care areas, treatment rooms, and operating theatres.

Common Materials: Swabs, bandages, gloves contaminated with bodily fluids, and other infectious materials.

Reason: These bins are used for waste that poses a risk of infection, requiring safe containment and often incineration or special treatment to prevent disease transmission.

<h3>Pharmaceutical waste bins</h3>

Pharmaceutical waste bins

Placement: In pharmacies, medication preparation areas, and nursing stations.

Common Materials: Expired drugs, contaminated drugs, and unused medications.

Reason: To prevent pollution and misuse, pharmaceutical waste needs secure disposal. These bins ensure that harmful substances are managed responsibly.

<h3>Sharps bins</h3>

Sharps bins

Placement: In any area where injections are administered, or surgery is performed, such as treatment rooms and surgical wards.

Common Materials: Needles, syringes, blades, and lancets.

Reason: Sharps waste is hazardous as it can cause injuries and spread infections. These bins are typically rigid and puncture-resistant to ensure safe disposal.

<h3>Dry mixed recycling bins</h3>

Dry mixed recycling bins

Placement: In office areas, canteens, and non-patient care areas.

Common Materials: Paper, cardboard, plastics, and non-contaminated metals.

Reason: These materials are recyclable and do not require special treatment, reducing the environmental impact and promoting recycling.

<h3>General waste bins</h3>

General waste bins

Placement: Throughout the hospital in offices, waiting rooms, and cafeterias.

Common Materials: Food waste, non-recyclable packaging, and other non-hazardous waste.

Reason: For waste similar to domestic waste, which does not pose a health risk and is typically collected by commercial waste providers.

<h3>Cytotoxic waste bins</h3>

Cytotoxic waste bins

Placement: In oncology departments, chemotherapy is prepared and administered.

Common Materials: Items contaminated with cytostatic or cytotoxic drugs, such as gloves, masks, and IV tubes.

Reason: Cytotoxic waste is highly toxic and requires stringent handling procedures to prevent harm to healthcare workers and the environment.

<h3>Radioactive waste bins</h3>

Radioactive waste bins

Placement: In nuclear medicine departments.

Common Materials: Waste contaminated by radioactive substances, like certain diagnostic imaging fluids.

Reason: Special handling and disposal are required for radioactive waste to protect human health and the environment from radiation exposure.

Impact of COVID-19: The rise of PPE

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a substantial increase in clinical waste produced by hospitals due to the usage of disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) and other consumables. This has posed new challenges in waste management logistics and capacity.

Pre-Pandemic baseline

Before the pandemic, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) dealt with significant clinical waste.

In 2018, NHS Trusts in England generated around 133,000 tonnes of waste, of which approximately 18% was classified as hazardous, according to NHS data. More details can be found in the NHS England Annual Reports.

Increase in medical waste during the pandemic

The pandemic saw a sharp rise in medical waste generation due to increased usage of disposable PPE and other consumables. Key aspects include:

  • PPE usage: The demand for PPE skyrocketed, with the NHS providers using items like masks, gloves, and aprons at much higher rates than before. Reports suggested that during the early months of the pandemic, PPE use was up to 10 times higher than normal levels.
  • Testing and vaccination programs: The rollout of extensive COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs contributed significantly to waste volumes. Millions of testing kits and vaccine-related materials (syringes, vials, packaging) were used.

In April 2020, it was estimated that the NHS could need up to 150 million masks, 25 million gowns, and 255 million pairs of gloves per month during the pandemic’s peak, illustrating the dramatic increase from pre-pandemic levels. This information is outlined in the NHS clinical waste strategy.

What have been the challenges?

The surge in waste during the pandemic posed several challenges:

  • Capacity: Many hospitals and waste management facilities neared or exceeded capacity for handling clinical waste.
  • Safety and compliance: It was crucial to ensure that the disposal processes complied with safety standards, especially given the infectious nature of COVID-19.

How did they respond to this?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s Environment Agency issued Regulatory Position Statements to help waste operators manage the surge in waste safely and compliantly.

Simultaneously, significant investments were made to improve the capacity and efficiency of waste treatment and disposal facilities.

The pandemic also triggered discussions and initiatives focused on reducing the use of disposable items in healthcare and exploring sustainable alternatives.

Moving forward

In the post-pandemic era, there is a dynamic push towards enhancing the sustainability of waste management in healthcare.

Efforts are being streamlined to explore reusable PPE options and improve waste segregation practices to reduce waste significantly.

Policies are being fortified to ensure the healthcare sector can sustainably manage waste and remain prepared for future public health emergencies, aligning with broader public health and environmental goals.

Check out our waste minimisation strategies for hospitals above to tackle the ever-increasing waste levels.