If you produce clinical waste in the UK, you need to dispose of it in accordance with UK law. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, businesses producing waste must dispose of it in a ‘responsible way’.
The accepted way to manage your clinical waste responsibly is to use different coloured clinical - also known as biohazard - waste bags for the different types of waste. Part of your legal duty is to classify your waste according to its ‘LoW’ or ‘EWC’ waste classification code. Using coloured clinical waste sacks will help with this.
We will discuss each of the main colours bags and their uses in this article, but your main options are:
Clinical waste comes in different forms, infectious and non-infectious, and includes:
Using the correct biohazard bag is important for keeping staff, patients and customers safe, and also ensuring the waste is correctly identified and segregated from other types of waste so it can be collected, transported and disposed of correctly.
Clinical waste bags are most commonly used in the healthcare sector:
They’re also used in other settings producing clinical waste:
Since the advent of Covid-19, businesses that wouldn’t normally create clinical waste, have had to use PPE equipment and Covid testing kits, which need to be disposed of safely. So more businesses than ever before are now producing clinical waste.
Knowing which bag to use can be confusing. But it’s important to get it right because using the wrong bag can result in clinical waste ending up in the wrong place, creating serious risks to public health. And just one item of clinical waste in the wrong bag could mean the whole bag is contaminated, meaning potentially higher disposal costs.
In this blog, we’ll outline which colour bag is used for which type of clinical waste. No more confusion, no more errors: you’ll find all the answers you need in this easy-to-follow guide.
When selecting the correct bag for your clinical waste, it’s very important to distinguish between infectious and non-infectious waste.
As infectious waste is potentially harmful to health, it must be managed more carefully than non-infectious waste. Even some non-infectious waste has the potential of infection if not disposed of quickly and safely.
‘Infectious’ means waste that is hazardous to anyone coming into contact with it because it has been produced from the treatment of patients who are infectious or potentially infectious. Because of the potential public health risk, infectious waste must either be:
Yellow clinical waste bags are used for infectious clinical waste that has been contaminated by medicines or chemicals. Think of them as the sack for high-risk waste.
If you’re unsure whether your medical waste is infectious and/or contaminated, it’s safest to use the yellow bag. If a child is sick on the floor of a nursery, she may or may not have an infection, so it’s safest to dispose of the materials used to clear up the mess in the yellow bag.
Because the yellow waste stream is for contaminated waste, it can’t be sent to an AT plant. It must be incinerated.
Some yellow waste items are:
Orange clinical waste bags are used for infectious clinical waste that has not been contaminated by any medicines or chemicals.
Because the safety risk is lower than with contaminated infectious waste, the orange waste bags can ether be sent for incineration, or to an AT plant or materials recovery facility (MRF), where the waste will be heated to a high temperature to sterilise it and make it safe for recycling or disposal.
Some of the items that may be put into orange clinical waste sacks are:
Tiger bags are used for non-infectious, offensive waste.
Not all clinical waste is infectious but may still need to be separated from other waste streams. Offensive waste includes most forms of sanitary waste, such as items soiled by body fluids like faeces or urine, or odour that makes them noxious or unpleasant.
Tiger bags should not contain anything which is classed as infectious, but if there is any doubt, the item should be placed in a yellow clinical waste bag.
Offensive waste does not include any item that is also infected and/or chemically or medicinally contaminated. This would fall under the yellow or orange waste stream.
Items that may be put into a tiger stripe bag include:
These waste items, while not in themselves infectious or hazardous, may become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, and a risk to health, if not disposed of quickly and correctly.
Tiger bags can be sent for recycling, incineration or to landfill.
Red clinical waste bags are used for non-infectious anatomical waste.
These bags are most commonly used following surgical procedures. They’re used for all body parts in need of disposal.
Items that may be put into a red clinical waste bag include:
Amalgam and gypsum dental waste should be put into white clinical waste bags, and not mixed with anatomical waste.
Red clinical waste bags must be sent for incineration.
Purple clinical waste bags are used for cytotoxic and cytostatic waste.
Cytotoxic and cytostatic drugs are used to destroy cancer cells or prevent them multiplying, with a view to stopping or stalling the growth of cancerous tumours. The waste produced from treatments using these medications is therefore potentially harmful to human health and needs to be disposed of carefully.
Items that may be put into a purple clinical waste bag include:
Purple clinical waste bags must be sent for incineration.
Blue clinical waste bags are used for medicinal non-hazardous waste.
This waste stream is for medicines and denatured drugs that carry no risk of having cytotoxic or cytostatic content. Most commonly, the blue clinical waste bag is for unused and out-of-date medicines, which need careful disposal.
Items that may be put into a blue clinical waste bag include:
Blue clinical waste bags must be sent for incineration.
White clinical waste bags are used for dental (amalgam and gypsum) waste.
This waste stream is for dental waste not falling into other waste streams, such as infectious clinical waste and anatomical waste. Most white bags are used by dentists to dispose of materials they use to treat patients needing fillings and other cavity work.
Amalgam, which is used for fillings, is a mixture of metals, including mercury, and is considered to be hazardous. Gypsum is used to create casts and moulds and is not considered to be hazardous.
Items that may be put into a white clinical waste bag include:
White clinical waste bags should be sent for recovery or recycling.
Black polythene bags are used for general waste.
Items of general purpose waste that may be put into a black bag include:
Black bags can be sent to landfill or for incineration.
Clear polythene bags are used for non-infectious, non-offensive waste not falling into any other category, and where you might need to see the contents
Clear polythene bags can be sent to landfill or for incineration.
|Bag colour||Category of waste||Examples||Method of disposal|
||Recycling, Incineration, Landfill|
|Purple||Cytotoxic and Cytostatic||
|White||Dental (amalgam and gypsum)||
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