Hygiene management: The environmental perspective

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When it comes to maintaining hygiene in the workplace, we don’t often think in terms of protecting the environment. The priority is on cleanliness, effective management of bathroom and kitchen facilities, and educating the workforce to follow best practice protocols.

Yet hygiene management does have an environmental impact. Some of the products used in professional cleaning operations, for example, can contain harmful chemicals. Businesses have the power to reduce impact by choosing more eco-friendly alternatives.

Most businesses also produce some amount of waste that is both non-recyclable and which also has to be treated carefully from a hygiene perspective. This falls into one of two broad categories: medical waste and so-called ‘offensive’ or sanitary waste.Hygiene management: The environmental perspective

These are types of waste for which, under the definitions of the waste hierarchy, there is no other option but disposal. From an environmental perspective, the key challenge in managing the disposal of these waste categories is finding alternatives to landfill.

Medical waste

Various types of medical waste are classified as hazardous, either because they contain potentially harmful chemicals (e.g. waste medicines and laboratory materials) or because they pose a risk of spreading infection. This latter category includes things like used needles, blood sample kits, dressings and anatomical waste.

There are strict rules governing how medical waste is to be collected and isolated, including specifications for the provision of medical waste bins. For example, all sharps must be collected in a clearly marked separate bin, while other types of clinical waste must be sorted into different coloured bags – orange for infectious waste that contains no chemicals, yellow for waste that is both potentially infectious and chemically contaminated.

Like all hazardous waste, medical waste can no longer be sent to landfill. Under hazardous waste control laws, it must be collected by licensed operators and disposed of in an approved manner, usually by incineration.

Sanitary waste

Sanitary waste is classified as human waste material that does not carry a risk of infection. It includes things like nappies, tampons, sanitary towels and incontinence pads.

As with medical waste, commercial operators are obliged to collect sanitary waste in separate, clearly demarcated bins, although not necessarily keep it apart from general waste for final disposal. The requirement to make sanitary bins available in female washrooms and baby changing facilities actually comes from occupational health regulations, rather than waste management law. You are allowed to empty sanitary bins into general waste as long as the total volume is under one full black bin bag’s worth per collection cycle, or seven kilogrammes in total weight. If you collect more than that, it must all be segregated for final disposal by a licensed operator.

Unlike medical waste, sanitary waste can be disposed of in landfill. However, many operators licensed for high volume sanitary waste collection are now opting for alternatives. Businesses are encouraged to separate sanitary waste from general waste even if they fall below the one-bag threshold so it can be disposed of in a more eco-friendly manner. What makes this easier is the fact that some hygiene service providers will both supply nappy and sanitary bins and take care of collection as part of the same contract.

You can find out more about Hygienico on the company’s website.