Written by Laura Wakelam
01 Jun 2023

What Is Offensive Waste?

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2021 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

One dictionary definition for the term “offensive” is—unpleasant or disagreeable to the sense: an offensive odour. Healthcare providers throughout the UK are required to segregate waste based on its properties and potential to cause harm. But what does offensive mean in the context of healthcare waste? What is offensive waste and how is it classified? We’ll answer those questions and more in this blog.


1 / What is Offensive Waste

2 / Common Examples of Offensive Waste

3 / Offensive waste and the Clinical Waste Strategy

4 / How to correctly dispose of offensive waste

5 / The recovery of offensive waste 

6 / Do you need support with your offensive waste? 

What is Offensive Waste?

Offensive waste is defined as recognisable healthcare waste that is non-infectious and doesn’t contain any pharmaceutical or chemical substances. It’s the most common healthcare waste stream and may be unpleasant to those who come into contact with it. It’s the most common healthcare waste stream and is considered “offensive” due to its potentially unpleasant odour and appearance – although some offensive waste may not appear unpleasant (used PPE for example).

So in summary, offensive waste is waste that:

  • Is not clinical waste.
  • Is not infectious, but may contain body fluids, secretions or excretions.
  • Is non-hazardous.

Offensive waste falls within waste codes:

  • 18 01 04 – Human-related healthcare.
  • 18 02 03 – Animal-related healthcare.
  • 20 01 99 – Municipal sources.

See our resource: “What Are the EWC Codes for Healthcare Waste” for more information on identifying and classifying waste types in compliance with the European Waste Catalogue. 

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Common Examples of Offensive Waste

Offensive wastes may be generated both within the healthcare environment and in the wider community. Offensive wastes which wouldn’t be generated outside of a human or animal healthcare environment include:

  • Single-use instruments (tongue depressors, specula).
  • Used gowns.
  • Used PPE which has not been contaminated with bodily fluids.
  • Dressings from non-infectious patients.
  • Empty non-medicated intravenous bags.
  • Cardboard vomit/urine bowls.

Offensive wastes typically discarded from households which could be generated outside of a healthcare environment include:

  • Nappies and adult incontinence products (pads, colostomy bags, catheters).
  • Used personal hygiene products.
  • Non-infectious dressings.

To reiterate then – offensive waste can be described as an item that has been soiled by body fluids, but again, not contaminated by biological or hazardous materials, medicines, or chemicals that are deemed or suspected to be infectious. 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. More information on offensive waste can be found in the updated Health Technical Memorandum (HTM) 07-01: Safe and Sustainable Management of Healthcare Waste. 

Offensive Waste and the Clinical Waste Strategy

As part of its Clinical Waste Strategy, NHS England encourages a 20-20-60 split of healthcare waste sent for treatment which breaks down as:

  • 20% of waste sent for high-temperature incineration;
  • 20% of waste sent for alternative treatment (AT);
  • 60% of waste classified as offensive waste, which can be converted into energy.

By introducing the offensive waste stream and improving segregation practices the overtreatment of waste is easily avoidable, resulting in the diversion of the majority of generated healthcare waste from carbon-intensive treatments. The continued reduction of waste unnecessarily sent for high-temperature incineration is a huge step in the right direction on the route to net zero.


Need Support With Offensive Waste?

How to Correctly Dispose of Offensive Waste

As noted, the over-classification of offensive waste as infectious waste can lead to more expensive waste management handling and result in carbon-intensive treatments such as high-temperature incineration. The upshot is that If there’s no good reason to believe an item is hazardous (infectious, chemically/pharmaceutically/cytotoxically contaminated or radioactive) – do not dispose of it to a yellow, orange or purple bin/bag or other container for hazardous waste.

Before disposing of an item in the infectious waste stream, consider whether the item is hazardous, or in fact just unpleasant and therefore – offensive. The most common over-classified items include:

  • PPE – Only clinical waste if contaminated with infectious fluids, chemicals, or radiation.
  • Single-use gowns and other items that touch patients – only clinical waste if hazardous or contaminated with infectious fluids, chemicals, or radiation.

It’s the duty of care of any waste producer to correctly classify and describe their waste. It’s much easier to comply with the duty of care when waste is correctly segregated. Failure to comply can result in fines and penalties because different types of waste need different treatments.

Offensive waste should only be placed in a yellow and black striped “Tiger” bag. Sharps are not considered offensive waste as they could pierce the bag so must always be disposed of in the appropriate sharps container.

Never place sharps inside an offensive waste bag, even if they’re contained in a sharps bin. 

It’s important to know that liquid offensive waste such as liquid faeces, urine, or vomit, shouldn’t be disposed of in this waste stream and “should instead be emptied to foul sewer”.

A Note on Handling Offensive Waste: Although by definition offensive waste is non-hazardous, ensuring your clothing and PPE are clean and practising good hand washing habits after handling it are recommended.

The Recovery of Offensive Waste

With a heavy focus to achieve landfill diversion targets, the NHS are keen to push their generated healthcare waste up the waste hierarchy into a more environmentally favourable position.

As there are currently no technologies for recycling offensive waste, recovering energy from it through incineration is the best available method.

Offensive wastes don’t need to be autoclaved or pre-treated before being sent for disposal or recovery because they’re non-hazardous. However, it may be shredded and further processed into refuse-derived fuel to make it more suitable for energy from waste processes, or suitable as a fuel for other purposes. 

Do You Need Support With Your Offensive Waste?

At Sharpsmart, we’re working with our partners across the UK to achieve Net Zero Together and one of the many ways we’re doing that is through the introduction and ongoing support of the offensive waste stream.

Through innovative solutions and blended learning materials, we work with you within the four walls of your facility to get the most out of your healthcare waste management. Get in touch with one of our waste experts today and ensure your organisation practices correct segregation and maintains compliance.




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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