Written by Laura Wakelam
09 Sep 2021

What Is Offensive Waste?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of “offensive” is an offensive smell, among others. What does offensive waste mean in a medical or healthcare setting? Medical and healthcare providers throughout the UK are required to segregate medical waste based on its components and its potential to cause harm.

An offense waste in such scenarios is defined as something that, though it might be unpleasant and cause “offense,” is typically non-infectious. Other definitions state that offensive waste is non-clinical, meaning that it does not contain chemical or pharmaceutical substances.

Non-clinical waste is defined as non-infectious anatomical waste, and/or a non-infectious waste where no chemicals are present. Sometimes, wording can be confusing. For example, non-contaminated sharps could technically also be described as a non-clinical waste as long as they are not tainted with body fluids or medicines, but at the same time, sharps are not to be disposed of in common non-offensive waste bags or containers.


1 / Common Examples of Offensive Waste

2 / Identifying Offensive Waste

3 / Proper Storage and Disposal of Offensive Waste

4 / Sharpsmart Urges Compliance

Common Examples of Offensive Waste

In both human and animal healthcare scenarios, healthcare offensive waste includes items such as personal protective equipment (PPE), although that is only true if said protective clothing and dressings are not contaminated with things like bodily fluids or, in some cases, sterilised laboratory waste.

In non-hospital or clinical settings, offensive waste is defined as a type of waste that is typically discarded from households such as nappies, incontinence pads, and other hygiene waste.

Offensive healthcare waste must be separated from mixed municipal or clinical waste. Types of offensive hygiene waste produced in healthcare scenarios can also include uncontaminated dressings, empty and non-medicated intravenous bags, and cardboard vomit/urine bowls – unless infection is suspected.

According to the Health Technical Memorandum (07-01: Safe Management of Healthcare Waste) liquid offensive/hygiene waste (such as liquid faeces, urine, or vomit) should not be placed in this waste stream and may “need to be discarded to foul sewer before containers are discarded.”

Note: Sharps are deemed hazardous and have the potential to cause illness, harm or injury to humans and/or animals. Even sharps and syringes that are not contaminated with medicines are classified as hazardous.

In other words, offensive waste can be described as an item that has been soiled by body fluids, but again, not contaminated by infectious or biological or hazardous materials, medicines, or chemicals. While offensive waste is not typically considered potentially dangerous to human or animal health, such waste can accumulate bacteria if not handled, stored, and disposed of properly.

Identifying Offensive Waste

Healthcare workers should be able to appropriately classify healthcare waste within their facility. Classifications are determined by certain assessments and will also be categorised based on where and how it is produced, the time it is produced, and what type of components that waste contains such as:

  • Chemical properties
  • Infectious properties
  • Medicinal properties

Even if a waste does not contain any of the above properties, a certain process is involved in determining whether the waste is actually offensive/hygiene waste, or something else entirely.

The Technical Health Memorandum provides a specific process for assessing offensive and hygiene properties, found under Chapter 4: Healthcare waste definitions and classifications. Per the guidelines, offensive/hygiene waste can be assessed differently depending on its source.

For example, section 4.117 states that: "Waste items from healthcare activities must be assessed for steps 2 (medicinal), 3 (chemical), and 4 (infectious) to confirm that they are not clinical waste before offensive properties can be considered."

Note: Review of chapter 4 of the manual is recommended for specific step-by-step assessment of waste properties.

So even before a healthcare employee, maintenance worker, or housekeeper can determine whether the waste is simply “offensive” or is some type of clinical waste, it must be carefully assessed for any chemical, infectious, or medicinal properties that it might contain.

Proper Storage and Disposal of Offensive Waste

It is the duty of care of any waste producer to classify and describe their waste. It is much easier to comply with the duty of care when waste is segregated. Failure to comply can lead to fines and penalties. This is because different types of waste have different disposal options. Compliant and proper colour-coding of waste is essential.

In addition, every container must be labelled in accordance with the legal requirements of packaging and transporting. That means every bag, container, box, or bin must contain labels that clearly identify the type of waste it contains. Containers are also to be not only tagged but labelled in such a way that identifies the generator (a health facility in this case) that produced it.

Offensive/hygiene waste is typically disposed of in a yellow bag with black stripe/s. In many cases, such waste is appropriate for landfill disposal, or it may be taken to a municipal location that has been permitted and licensed for incineration. The yellow and black striped bags can be used for both offensive healthcare waste and offensive municipal waste that doesn’t contain any hazardous properties. However, such waste, according to guidelines, is strictly restricted to offensive waste from healthcare and related activities that also include autoclaved wastes from laboratories.

Offensive waste, even if it doesn’t contain any dangerous or harmful components, must be colour-coded and stored appropriately. Offensive waste can be disposed of in the yellow/black bags. According to the Health Technical Memorandum domestic waste means mixed municipal waste from healthcare and related sources that is the same as, or similar to, black bag domestic waste from domestic households.”

The rule (4.164) goes on to state that healthcare premises must not place any hazardous waste in this waste stream. The waste should therefore be non-hazardous and suitable for disposal by landfill (where pretreatment requirements are met)” or other processes like incineration.

Therefore, offensive waste is disposed of in yellow and black striped bags. That said, if in doubt regarding the classification of the offensive waste depending upon its components, err on the side of caution and treat it as a hazardous waste.

Correctly label all waste disposal bags, bins, carts, and/or other containers with the waste type. If this is not done, the waste collector may not remove them. Never place sharps, even if contained in a sharps bin, in an offensive waste bag.

Sharpsmart Urges Compliance

Sharpsmart urges compliance when it comes to dealing with offensive waste. We know that guidelines can at times be confusing. Even so, proper waste segregation, packaging, classification, and labelling is essential for safety to healthcare providers and the general public, while ensuring that all types of medical waste will be appropriately disposed of.

If in doubt regarding medical waste classification, contact Sharpsmart today. We have the experience, resources, and knowledge to help ensure that you maintain compliance when it comes to your facility and duty of care.




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Laura Wakelam

Laura Wakelam

Chief Marketing Officer

Brand and Communications Curator of Sharpsmart global group of companies, Laura is a strong believer in cause-driven brand identity and honest storytelling