12.2.2 Managing solid healthcare waste

  • In Study Session 7 you learned about the classification of solid waste. What are the types of waste that can be generated in health institutions?

  • Healthcare waste includes hazardous waste (approximately10-25%) and non-hazardous wastes (75–90%) which is similar in composition to commercial and residential waste.

The major concern in health institutions is proper management of hazardous wastes which include sharps (needles, etc.), pathological or anatomical waste (placentas, body parts, blood or body fluids), used gauze, bandages, gloves and plasters. It may also contain expired drugs, laboratory reagents and other chemicals.

Some of the key points in managing healthcare waste before final disposal are:

  • Healthcare workers should try to reduce the amount of waste but reducing (or reusing) waste should never be carried out if it compromises patient care or creates any other risk of infection.
  • Hazardous and non-hazardous waste must be separated and stored separately. Waste should be separated immediately by the person generating it. The different wastes should be placed in containers with the appropriate colour for that particular type of waste (FMHACA, 2013). The container for each waste type is:
    • Black bins for all non-hazardous waste such as paper, packaging materials, office supplies, drink containers, hand towels, boxes, plastic bottles and food wastes.
    • Yellow bins for infectious waste, which includes any material that has been in contact with blood or body fluids such as gauze, dressings and gloves.
    • Red bins for highly infectious wastes such as anatomical wastes (e.g. teeth, placenta) and pathological wastes (e.g. sputum-containing materials, test tubes containing specimen fluids).
    • A safety box (Figure 12.4) for sharps wastes that have the potential to cause injuries and spread disease, such as needles, scalpels, syringes, blades, and broken glass.
  • Waste disposal facilities such as an incinerator and burial pits must be available, appropriate for the type of waste and health services provided. (Disposal is described further in the next section.)
  • Water supply and handwashing facilities are very important for good personal hygiene practice among health workers and patients. In addition, all staff who handle or come in contact with the waste should be provided with appropriate protective clothing including gloves, aprons and face masks.
Figure 12.4 Safety box for collecting needles and other sharps.

12.2.3 Disposal of healthcare waste