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RCN: ‘Better waste management could lead to cost savings’

22 April 2014

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Supporting health care workers to classify waste appropriately can bring benefits to health organisations as well as the environment, according to new Royal College of Nursing (RCN) waste management guidance.

The management of waste arising from health, social and personal care, published today by the RCN and waste management experts from across the UK, highlights the need to risk assess all waste rather than simply labelling it infectious.

Reflecting legislative changes and current forms of best practice, the guidance calls for a greater focus on the waste hierarchy and for more distinction to be made between different waste types. 

It also argues for strengthening staff training on waste management and suggests that all organisations should consider appointing a dedicated waste manager.    

Rose Gallagher, the RCN’s nursing adviser for infection control, said: “Safe management of health care waste is the responsibility of all staff in health settings. This guidance is designed to support health care workers, and particularly nursing staff, in managing the waste generated through their roles.

“There is evidence to suggest that a large quantity of health care waste is classified as infectious when it doesn’t actually present a risk of infection. It should instead be classed as offensive waste, meaning it is non-hazardous. This improvement in classification could lead to cost savings and a reduction in carbon emissions.

“All health care organisations should use this new guidance and provide adequate support to their staff in dealing with waste management issues.”

The guide was co-authored by WSP, the professional consultancy, which also co-authored the Department of Health’s revised guidance on the safe management of healthcare waste.

The guidance is available to view on the RCN website