Can you recognise clinical waste? – Rebecca Waters Initial Medical

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  Posted by: Dental Design      2nd September 2019

In a dental practice it’s likely that you’ll come face to face with lots of different types of waste. The Department of Health’s colour code for best practice waste disposal is a helpful way to discern between the different waste streams, but when some of the categories such as infectious clinical waste and highly infectious clinical waste are so closely linked, it’s easy to see why staff might be confused.

So, what constitutes these waste streams and why are two different colours of the colour code dedicated to them? It’s important to be confident in the topic to ensure that you are disposing of any clinical waste properly, especially as some items can be dangerous. 

The difference between the two waste streams

The main difference between these two waste streams is the method in which they have to be destroyed.

Orange waste encapsulates any clinical items that can be treated prior to disposal to make them safe, but which can still also be incinerated. In a dental practice these items are likely to include any used wipes, gloves and aprons.

On the other hand, items that are counted as clinical, highly infectious waste cannot be treated before disposal and therefore must be incinerated. Examples of yellow waste include gloves and aprons  that have been used when treating someone you either suspect or know to be carrying an infectious disease.

What are the dangers of clinical waste?

As the labels of infectious and highly infectious already suggest, the main danger these items present is that they can lead to the spread of diseases. Blood, saliva or any other bodily fluids that are on these items can hold a multitude of pathogens. Although some of these illnesses may not be any more serious than a common cold, there is also the chance that far more severe conditions can be spread through direct contact with this waste, including bloodborne diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

These conditions come with a lot of potentially life-changing outcomes. HIV heavily impacts the body’s immune system, leaving sufferers open to catching other conditions and exacerbating even simple illnesses such as colds into something far more threatening. Hepatitis C and B can also create a lot of problems, and if they go untreated can result in liver failure and other potentially fatal consequences.

As such, keeping these pathogens contained is essential, especially as even the smallest actions could lead to accidental infection. For example, if you unintentionally disposed of a pair of blood covered gloves in municipal waste, and this blood contained Hepatitis C or some other infectious disease, this could leave a number of people vulnerable. If whoever is emptying the bin is not wearing gloves, this means they may become infected if they get the blood on their hands. Furthermore, these blood covered items will eventually up in a landfill, where they will be open to the air and possibly come into contact with people and animals there, potentially spreading the disease further.

These pathogens could also be transferred to surfaces in the practice, even moving outside the surgery and into the waiting room. This puts patients at direct risk of contracting illnesses, and may result in a widespread panic. Although this really is a worst-case scenario, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

More than just health at stake

Of course, should the worst happen it’s not only your patients that are going to suffer but also your business.  Should an epidemic somehow break out due to the improper disposal of clinical waste, your practice will be directly in line for legal litigation. This can be extremely damaging for both your reputation and your employees, and needs to be avoided at all costs.

Another way to remember

If your employees are still unsure of how to segregate clinical waste appropriately, you can provide this information in a new, fun way. Initial Medical has especially created Colour Code Characters that are personifications of every waste stream, so that people can remember the protocols more clearly.

Each of these characters is the same colour as their respective waste stream, and their illustrations hold clues to the type of waste that fall under their category. You can contact Initial Medical to receive your free Colour Code Character posters by visiting the website

Be clever with clinical waste

Both types of clinical waste can be dangerous and need to be disposed of properly. By introducing visual reminders to your practice, and through making the distinction between orange and yellow waste streams clear, you can avoid the spread of diseases in your practice.


For further information please visit Tel: 0870 850 4045



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