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What is considered infectious waste and how should it be processed?

What is considered infectious waste and how should it be processed?

Posted on February 8th, 2018

In the healthcare and veterinary industries there are numerous challenges when it comes to waste management. Consequently healthcare activities carers are exposed to several types of waste; each of which needs to be processed differently. The various waste streams have their own risks and associated costs for disposal. This article focuses on infectious waste.

What is infectious waste?

Infectious waste is normally produced during human and animal health care activities. According to the world health organisation up to 15% of all clinical waste is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic or radioactive.

The following is the World Health Organisations definition of infectious waste.

“waste contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids (e.g. from discarded diagnostic samples), cultures and stocks of infectious agents from laboratory work (e.g. waste from autopsies and infected animals from laboratories), or waste from patients in isolation wards and equipment (e.g. swabs, bandages and disposable medical devices).”
World Health Organisation

Infectious waste management

As infectious waste costs more to dispose, it quickly becomes cost effective to promote good waste segregation policies. This should start with the placement of approved waste bins that promote segregation and clear training to ensure staff understand the benefits disposing of waste into the most appropriate bin.

Let’s take sharps waste as an example of the challenges facing healthcare and veterinary professionals today. Sharps waste can be classified as either hazardous and non-hazardous.

Hazardous sharps waste

Sharps are hazardous when contaminated with:

  • Infectious materials (blood & bodily fluids etc.)
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Cytotoxic or cytostatic drugs

Sharps are non-hazardous where they were used in the treatment of non-infectious patients and aren’t contaminated with pharmaceutical residues.

It is partly due to this level of complication that some organisations prefer to send all sharps waste to high temperature incineration (HTI) in-line with the strictest waste management legislation. For other organisations the preferred option is to separate sharps waste into infectious and non-infectious waste; this can result in a more cost effective waste treatment process.

Offensive Waste

There are also opportunities to improve waste segregation policies and make significant savings by separating infectious and offensive waste. Items such as dressings, swabs, bandages and surgical gloves (there are many others) may become contaminated with infectious or non-infectious materials.

Infectious waste disposal

There are a range of treatment options available to treat and dispose of infectious waste. As previously mentioned infectious sharps waste should be sent for high temperature incineration. Whilst high temperature incineration or steam sterilisation in an autoclave are suitable processes for soft infectious waste.

For more information and advice on managing infectious waste contact one of our advisers.

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