Clinical Waste Feb 13, 2024

What is hazardous waste and how should it be processed?

What is hazardous waste and how should it be processed?

Posted on February 2nd, 2018

Hazardous wastes are wastes with properties that make it an oxidising agent, flammable, irritant, harmful, toxic, carcinogenic, corrosive, infectious, mutagenic or ecotoxic. This does not necessarily mean it is an immediate risk to human health, although some waste can be.

How to find out if your waste is hazardous

The List of Wastes or European Waste Catalogue lists approximately 650 different waste types. Those that are suffixed with an asterisk are considered hazardous. In some instances, there are hazardous and non-hazardous entries for a specific type of waste. This occurs where the waste contains a dangerous substance at or above certain levels.

In these cases, the composition of the waste must be assessed to determine whether it should be classified as hazardous or non-hazardous waste. Often the manufacture’s product information or safety data sheets will provide guidance. It is important to note that it’s illegal to mix a hazardous waste with either non-hazardous waste or another hazardous waste.

How to dispose of hazardous waste

There is such a broad range of materials that are considered as hazardous waste; each will have its own method of disposal. In this article the focus will be on clinical waste, pharmaceutical waste and chemical waste streams.

Clinical Waste generated from human and animal health care activities provide a range of challenges. For example, clinical waste includes infectious and non-infectious sharps waste, pharmaceutical waste in the form of glass bottles and vials, flu-absorbers, denaturing kits, cytotoxic and cytostatic drugs and out-of-date or unused medicines. To further complicate the disposal of medicines, some medicines are classified as controlled drugs because of the potential for drug abuse and therefore are subject to additional regulations regarding their disposal. As hazardous waste poses a risk to public health, procedures for effective waste segregation, storage, collection and disposal are important.

Clinical waste

For example, sharps waste must be collected in approved containers to protect against needle stick injuries. Treatment options for infectious clinical waste includes processing through an autoclave, alternative treatment or incineration. However, sharps and general clinical waste that are contaminated with cytotoxic or cytostatic medicines need high temperature incineration.

Pharmaceutical waste

When you consider pharmaceutical waste and in particular controlled drugs; any out of date or unwanted drugs should be denatured before being destroyed. This prevents drugs being retrieved, recovered or reused prior to destruction by incineration. The disposal of controlled drugs requires the supervision of an authorised person to ensure that the controlled drugs are permanently removed from circulation.

Chemical waste

Chemical waste is probably most commonly thought of when discussing hazardous waste. This is due to the fact that chemical spills represent a significant risk to public health and the environment. When we refer to chemical waste typically the waste is made up from:

  • Antifreeze
  • Batteries
  • Flammable waste
  • Laboratory waste
  • Paints, paint tins or ink containers
  • Pesticides
  • Solvents
  • Waste oils and rags
  • Redundant laboratory chemicals

Because of the variety of waste items that make up chemical waste there is a range of legislation that determines how it is stored, collected, transported and treated. For example, in the UK companies are bound by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations 2002 (COSHH), Carriage of Dangerous Goods and the Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009 and ADR compliance, Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005 and the Guidance on the classification of waste (1st edition 2015) Technical guidance WM3.

Collecting and transporting hazardous waste?

For each collection of hazardous waste, a Hazardous Waste Consignment Note must be completed; this allows the collection driver to ensure the waste is correctly described on collection and when the waste is unloaded for treatment. To transfer waste it is a requirement for the driver and vehicle to comply with ADR regulations. The waste can then be transferred to either a waste transfer station or to a processing / waste treatment site.

Treating hazardous waste

As varied as the hazardous waste streams are there are differing treatment options. E.g. Clinical waste contaminated with Cytotoxic and Cytostatic medicines should go for high temperature incineration whereas other clinical waste can be treated by steam sterilisation in an autoclave and chemical waste should be treated to recycle and reclaim material. To determine the most appropriate process for your waste it is important to consult a reputable waste management company such as ourselves at Novus Environmental.

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