Risk Factors

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Twenty or more years ago little thought was given towards the proper management of healthcare waste. Staff would frequently use whatever bags were available without considering the consequences. Since then to address a wide range of legitimate concerns legislators worldwide have introduced progressively more stringent regulations and codes of practice governing every aspect of the healthcare waste handling and disposal. Risk factors include:

  • Infection Control: incorrectly handled and stored healthcare waste can remain highly infectious and be a source of outbreaks both where it was generated and at other locations;
  • Environmental Impact of Healthcare Waste: traditional incineration based treatments emit large quantities of greenhouse gasses and high risk toxins directly into the atmosphere. Other disposal processes risk leaching and contamination of ground water;
  • Duty of Care to Patients, Staff and the Public: waste producers have a duty of care to protect patients, staff and the public from potential harm caused by healthcare waste. This duty extends to people employed at all stages of the disposal process including outside contractors involved in handling, transportation and processing.

Waste Streams

The use of separated waste streams has greatly increased as a direct consequence of legislative changes and is now embedded in current guidance.

  • Separate waste streams are currently seen as the most efficient way for waste generators to meet the standards required
  • They are also more affordable as waste is processed according to the required need

The waste stream management process can only work effectively if waste is accurately sorted and separated. This creates additional responsibilities both for individuals and organisations.

  • Waste separation must be maintained throughout the waste disposal chain, from the generator to the final processor.
  • Waste sorting and separation has to start right at the top of the chain, when a nurse, doctor, health worker or patient decides to throw anything into a bin.
  • Organisations must ensure that all staff receive proper training.
  • The appropriate disposal streams must be available in all the places where waste is generated.
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Organisations are responsible for sourcing and provisioning the full range of waste bags and other containers appropriate for the waste streams in use at every point and in every facility under their control.

Only by following all processes can accurate, end-to-end track and trace documentation be provided. Leaving any part of the healthcare waste disposal process, including the supply, selection and distribution of waste bags, to chance is no longer an option.

With such a complex range of demands, the final requirement to operating a successful healthcare waste bag sourcing and provisioning programme is to partner with a reliable and professional specialist supplier who fully understands the needs of the healthcare waste sector.

Compliance & CQC Oversight

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Waste generators must now by law ensure that all healthcare waste they generate is processed according to the latest guidance. In the UK this is currently Health Technical Memorandum 07-01: Safe Management of Healthcare Waste.

  • Many other countries have similar legally enforceable codes of practice in place.
  • Guidance applies to all types of healthcare waste producers including hospitals, clinics, care and nursing homes and local authority and independent care providers.
  • Failure to comply with the guidelines opens organisations and individuals up to prosecution and heavy fines or worse.

In the UK the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has an active role in offering guidance, inspection and enforcement. Organisations exist with similar roles in other countries.

Alternative Treatments for Disposal

Increasing cost has become a major factor in healthcare waste management and disposal as new regulations have been implemented.

  • The cost of incineration has increased very sharply as regulations covering emissions and the disposal of residues have been tightened.
  • This has resulted in closure of many local hospital incinerator plants.
  • More clinical waste is now transported to central processing facilities operated by independent specialist contractors.

As a result new processing methods have been developed for some types of clinical waste.

  • Alternative Treatment can involve chemical processing of some types of clinical waste, followed by deep burial.
  • Offensive Waste (formerly known as ‘Sanpro’) is the fastest growing new healthcare waste processing category.
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Much of what is now designated ‘Offensive Waste’ would in the past have been classified as ‘Clinical Waste’ and put through the incineration process. Waste Streaming makes this possible.