Back to basics – how well do you know the colour code?

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  Posted by: Dental Design      21st June 2024

Careful handling of the waste products from your dental practice is essential to ensure the safety of clinicians, patients, and the wider environment. Numerous guidelines are in place to ensure waste items are appropriately managed – with dedicated pathways for those that can be recycled, treated, incinerated, or sent to landfill.

Given the broad range of waste generated in the dental practice, effective segregation is important for the safe and efficient treatment of this waste. This requires consistency among staff, as it only works when everyone contributes.

However, it can be difficult to remember which waste items should be separated for which treatment method, which is where the colour code comes in. This provides a simple way to identify waste items according to the level of risk they present, as well as the appropriate disposal methods for those items. Dental professionals should take the time to refresh their knowledge of the colour code waste system to optimise clinical waste management within the practice.

Current guidelines

One of the most important sources of information regarding the colour code waste system is the Health Technical Memorandum 07-01 (HTM 07-01),[1] which offers comprehensive advice for the safe and sustainable management of healthcare waste. The guidance is not mandatory but provides best practice recommendations for practices striving to ensure the highest standards for their patients, staff and business.

HTM 07-01 allocates 13 different colours to each component of healthcare and infectious waste. It provides a clear and concise way for professionals to implement safe and effective waste segregation onsite. A decision-tree is available within the document that clearly defines which waste items go where.

Colour breakdown

Three of the most commonly used waste streams in dentistry are for infectious, highly infectious and offensive waste, represented by orange, yellow and tiger colouring (yellow with a black stripe), respectively. To judge which colour waste stream is most appropriate in any given moment, you must establish whether an item is infectious, and if so, the risks it poses.

If a waste item has been in contact with a patient who is either being treated for infection; is carrying a transmissible disease; has a known history of infection, such as a bloodborne virus; or if the item is/has been in contact with a culture, stock, or sample of infectious agents from laboratory work, allocate it into the appropriate orange or yellow waste stream.1 Where the waste is infectious and contaminated with Category A Pathogens, medicines or chemicals, it is allocated yellow – otherwise, place it into the orange stream. Separating these accurately is essential, as highly infectious waste (yellow stream) will most often be sent for incineration, whereas known infectious items (orange stream) may be suitable for alternative (and less energy-intensive) treatment.

Be aware, not all clinical waste is infectious. When an item doesn’t meet this criteria, it must be placed in the offensive stream (tiger colouring). You may find this makes up a majority of your disposal needs. This includes products that have been in contact with bodily fluids – if they are not hazardous or infectious, opt for a tiger container.1 Aside from non-infectious clinical waste such as single-use PPE, other products that can’t be mixed with municipal items, such as nappies, inconvenience pads, and feminine sanitary items, should be placed in here too.

Dental waste is signified by white in the colour code – with a skull and crossbones (hazardous) for amalgam and without (non-hazardous) for gypsum. This protects people and the environment from potential mercury vapour that can be released from waste amalgam keeps waste gypsum away from general landfill, and prevents it from creating dangerous sulphide gas. Mixed municipal waste, which is black in the colour code, encompasses waste that can be disposed of in landfill and usually includes food packaging, plastics that can’t be recycled, and tissues.

The remaining colours in the code are unlikely to be managed in the dental practice, but are still worth professionals being aware of. These are purple cytotoxic and cytostatic waste (used if you provide cosmetic procedures such as botulinum toxin injections in your practice); red anatomical waste; blue pharmaceutical waste (which includes used or partially used anaesthetic cartridges); and clear lateral flow testing waste.

Effective solutions

In addition to educating staff and giving them access to resources that refresh their knowledge and understanding about safe waste segregation, it can be helpful to provide reminders. For example, signposting staff to useful resources online can help to refresh their understanding of how the best practice colour code applies to their everyday work. Physical reminders located around the premises can also be beneficial, such as placing posters outlining appropriate waste streams and their allocated colour at relevant points in the practice. Experts in the field, Initial Medical, offer an array of posters that are free to download from their website, which can be utilised in the dental practice to facilitate safe and efficient waste segregation by all colleagues.

However you support your team in implementing safe management of clinical waste, it’s important they can do this confidently. Much waste is generated in the dental practice and effectively segregating it means that businesses can minimise its environmental impact, by ensuring waste is treated in the most sustainable and least energy-intensive way possible. As you move further towards best practice standards, be sure to review your waste protocols.

To find out more, get in touch at 0808 304 7411 or visit the website today

About Initial Medical

Initial Medical set the standard in healthcare and infectious waste management in the UK, providing a reliable, effective and fully compliant service built around customer needs and delivered by our highly trained local teams.  We are ISO 9001:2015 accredited, with technology fully integrated into our operations, providing full traceability of service delivery, electronic waste documentation and the best customer experience possible. We also offer innovative healthcare waste management services and infection control products, to help break the chain of transmission and prevent cross contamination.

Initial Medical are a company with a ‘World Class’ Health and Safety record, and ISO 45001:2018 accreditation. We are also accredited to ISO 14001:2015 environmental standards, and pride ourselves on our sustainable approach with a focus on delivering eco-friendly products and operational solutions.

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.

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[1] NHS England, (2022). Health Technical Memorandum 07:01 Safe and sustainable management of healthcare waste. (Online) Available at: [Accessed April 2024]

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