The world of waste can be a tangled web of legislation, regulations and rules, which sometimes are difficult to understand and in which it is easy to get lost. In our 50 years of experience dealing with companies of any size and from a variety of different industries in the UK, we can say that a sizable percentage of organisations doesn’t know the difference between Offensive and Hazardous waste.
Offensive waste is non-clinical waste which is non-infectious and doesn’t contain pharmaceutical or chemical substances, but may be unpleasant to anyone who comes into contact with it. The residual health risk of offensive waste is considered low when segregated properly.
Most households and businesses generate some form of non-infectious or offensive waste every day, which could include:
Municipal offensive waste, i.e. hygiene waste and sanitary protection like nappies and incontinence pads;
Healthcare offensive waste, i.e. outer dressings and protective clothing like masks, gowns and gloves that aren’t contaminated with body fluids, and sterilised laboratory waste.
Offensive waste does not need to be transported as dangerous goods. This means collection and disposal of the waste is significantly cheaper than that of clinical or other hazardous waste. However, safe disposal of offensive waste is a critical and sensitive issue that requires attention in every working environment. There can be potential risks of infection and illness from cross-infection, if correct hygiene precautions are not taken.
Offensive waste can include:
human and animal waste from a non-infectious source;
medical/veterinary items of disposable equipment such as gowns, plaster casts etc;
plasters (minor first aid or self-care) generated by personal use;
animal hygiene wastes (animal bedding, dog faeces etc);
wastes from non-healthcare activities, for example wastes from body piercing or application of tattoos.
Unlike offensive waste, hazardous waste is anything that presents a substantial threat to public health or to the environment. The list of items that are to be considered hazardous waste is very long, although the most common include:
Paints, inks and pigments
Solvents, pesticides and cleaning products
Vehicle fluids such as antifreeze, oil and brake cleaners
Electronic waste such as computer monitors
Clinical waste is also considered hazardous due to its infectious nature. The definition of clinical waste covers any waste arising from medical, nursing, dental, or veterinary practices, including waste produced during investigation, treatment, care or research procedures.
Strict controls apply to hazardous waste from the point of its production, to its movement, management, and recovery or disposal. Disposing of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste at the same landfill site is illegal.
If your business produces or handles hazardous waste you must take all such measures as are reasonable in order to:
Prevent the production of waste
Reuse, recover or recycle your waste
Dispose of your hazardous waste safely
Disposal of hazardous waste should be considered only when re-using, recovering and recycling are not viable options.
Any organisation that produces hazardous waste needs to follow some key steps to make sure that they are dealing with it safely.
Identify the hazardous substances in the workplace and the risks they pose to people’s health or the environment.
Decide what precautions are needed to eliminate the risks, or reduce them to a level which will protect the environment and people’s health.
Eliminate the hazardous substances wherever possible – if this isn’t possible, control exposure to a level which will protect the health of the environment or people who could be affected.
Implement control measures and ensure that they are used and maintained. This includes making sure that everyone is consistently carrying out these procedures to avoid any health risks.
Monitor exposure – if the substances are airborne, it is important to monitor workers’ exposure to ensure they comply with workplace exposure limits.
Carry out appropriate health surveillance – in certain circumstances, you may need to provide medical checks for workers to ensure their health is not being damaged.
Prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies – set up a health and safety management system.
Inform, train and supervise employees to help ensure their health is not damaged when using hazardous substances.