Why proper waste disposal is essential

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  Posted by: Dental Design      13th March 2021

Every business generates waste. However, it is what is done with that waste and how it is disposed of that really matters.

Dental practices tend to generate a wide variety of waste, but are you doing all in your power to ensure that this waste is properly disposed of? Poor waste disposal can result in a number of negative consequences, not only for your practice and team but also for the wider environment.

Keeping your staff and patients safe

Arguably one of the most important aspects of correct waste disposal is that it helps to keep both staff and patients safe from an infection control point of view. For example, say a needle that has been used on a patient who has a bloodborne disease is improperly disposed of. In a worst-case scenario, this could result in the needle coming into contact with and injuring someone else, possibly passing on the disease.

The same concept can be applied to any potentially infectious waste – and should a disease breakout occur due to improper waste disposal, this can cause a significant amount of harm to people’s health. Plus, you can’t discount the impact this would have on your practice. If an outbreak is linked back to your business, it will have severe legal ramifications, which in turn will severely impact your reputation and the ability for your practice to survive.

Keeping the environment safe 

The environmental impact of incorrect waste disposal is also significant. Some items when improperly disposed of can have disastrous effects on the ecosystems they end up in, harming the wildlife and destroying the delicate balance of life that these biomes hold.

A highly pertinent example in dentistry is the disposal of amalgam. Although not dangerous when used in dental procedures, should amalgam enter ocean environments it soon becomes a threat to the local wildlife. This is because the mercury in amalgam is broken down by bacteria and other microorganisms and converted into methylmercury. Once in this form, mercury is easily absorbed into the bodies of marine life, causing abnormalities and even death. Furthermore, if humans eat these marine creatures with mercury in their bodies, there could be a risk of mercury poisoning that could potentially be fatal.[i]

Gypsum used in dental models can also cause considerable harm if disposed of improperly. In landfill when in contact with biodegradable waste, gypsum produces toxic hydrogen sulphide gas. This gas is odourless, colourless and very harmful to any organism that breathes it in, meaning that any wildlife or people that come into contact with it are at risk.[ii]

Another threat to the environment is plastic waste. As plastic is non-biodegradable, it stays in whatever environment it is discarded in, creating a hazard for wildlife that may mistake it for food or become trapped in it. In ocean environments, plastics steadily degrade into microplastics – small fragments of plastics that are eaten by fish and other marine creatures, which steadily build up in their stomachs and eventually cause death. At least 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year, and this means it is now the most abundant type of marine litter.[iii]

As such, you can see why proper waste disposal is so essential for both the planet and the health of your team and patients. But how do you ensure proper waste disposal is happening in your practice?

Knowledge is power

The foundation of correct waste disposal is knowledge. After all, if everyone on your team is well informed about what waste should be disposed of and where, then you can safeguard against improper disposal.

However, it’s understandable that achieving this is easier said than done. Although the Department of Health’s colour coded guide to best practice waste disposal is informative, it can be difficult for staff to remember all the details, leading to mistakes that can carry heavy consequences.

One way to reinforce the message is to look at adding extra visual aids for staff around your practice. For example, Initial Medical has created a set of Colour Code Character posters that help ensure staff can easily remember the Department of Health’s best practice guide for waste disposal.

These posters assign a fun, vibrant character to each of the waste streams, better helping people to make the connection between which items belong in which waste disposal containers/bins.

These Colour Code Character posters are FREE to download HERE: https://www.initial.co.uk/colour-coding-guide/

A top priority

In the end, proper waste disposal is necessary to ensure the safety of your local community and the planet. By understanding the risks and helping staff to keep informed, you can help to ensure that your business practises proper waste disposal, which in turn will help keep your staff, patients and environment safe.


For further information please visit www.initial.co.uk/medical or Tel: 0870 850 4045



Rebecca Waters, Category Manager, Initial Medical

Rebecca has worked in the Healthcare sector for the past 17years and was a Research Chemist with Bayer Cropscience prior to joining Rentokil Initial in 2003.  She keeps up to date on all developments within the clinical waste management industry and is an active member of the CIWM, SMDSA and BDIA.  



About Initial Medical Waste Experts

Initial Medical is an expert in healthcare waste management, providing a complete collection, disposal and recycling service for hazardous and non-hazardous waste and offensive waste produced by businesses and organisations within the UK.

The safe management of healthcare waste is vital to ensure your activities are not a risk to human health.  Initial Medical’s healthcare waste services ensure that all of your waste is stringently handled in compliance with legislation and in accordance with Safe Management of Healthcare Waste best practice guidelines, providing you with the peace of mind that you are adhering to current legislation.

For further information please visit www.initial.co.uk/medical or Tel: 0870 850 4045

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[i] Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. How Does Toxic Mercury Get Into Fish. Link: https://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/how-does-toxic-mercury-get-into-fish/ [Last accessed December 20].

[ii] Building.co.uk. Gypsum Waste Banned From Landfill. Link: https://www.building.co.uk/news/gypsum-waste-banned-from-landfill/3137433.article [Last December 20].

[iii] IUCN. Marine Plastics. Link: https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/marine-plastics [Last accessed December 20].

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