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Waste Terminology

Waste definitions and terminology

If you've ever been confused by the vast array of specialist terms and phrases used to describe hospital waste, then this page is for you. On this page we will attempt to define the most commen waste terms and direct you to useful sources of further information.

"clinical waste"



Clinical waste is defined in the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992 as any waste that consists wholly or partly of human or animal tissue, blood or bodily fluids.

Common usage:

Clinical waste is widely used as a catch-all term to describe the specific types of waste streams produced in hospitals and care settings; including offensive waste, infectious waste, sharps waste, hazardous waste, dental waste, veterinary waste

Also commonly referred to as:

Healthcare waste, medical waste, hospital waste. 

Further information:

Please see our Guidance page

"the waste hierarchy"



The “waste hierarchy” is a term that was first introduced in 1975 into The European Union’s Waste Framework Directive (1975/442/EEC) introduced for the first time. It seeks to rank waste management options according to what is best for the environment with priority given to preventing waste in the first place.

Common usage:

The waste hierarchy became widely associated with the 3 R's -  'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' but is now more associated with the 5 steps of waste management - 'Prevention, Preparation for reuse, Recycling, Other recovery, Disposal' 

Also commonly referred to as:

the waste triangle, reduce reuse recycle 

Further information:

"health care waste segregation"



The term 'waste segregation' refers to the process of separating waste into different waste types but has particular significance in the content of healthcare waste. Segregation refers to the separation of healthcare waste into defined waste groups according to the specific treatment and disposal requirements. The correct segregation of healthcare waste is particularly important because of the specific risks that certain waste streams may pose, to either the environment or human health and the legally defined disposal and transportation controls required for each waste stream. 

Common usage:

Healthcare waste segregation often refers to the specific UK colour coding Guidance issued by the Department of Health. Health Technical Manual (HTM 07-01) Management and disposal of healthcare waste is not mandatory but has been almost universally adopted in healthcare facilities across England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Also commonly referred to as:

waste separation, recycling, health care waste colour coding system, clinical waste colour coding, clinical waste management 

Further information:

Infectious waste

(medicine contaminated)


Yellow bags, yellow rigid containers, yellow-lidded sharps containers, yellow sharps bins

Infectious waste


Orange bags, orange-lidded rigid containers, orange-lidded sharps bins 

Anatomical (theatre) waste


Red rigid containater, red-lidded rigid containers, 

Pharmaceutical waste


Blue rigid containater, blue-lidded rigid containers, blue-lidded sharps bins

Offensive waste


Yellow and black striped bags, tiger bags 

Amalgam waste


White pots and sealable containers 

General waste, non-recyclable waste

Black bags, as used for 'household' waste

Cytotoxic waste, cytostatic waste


Purple bags, purple-lidded rigid containers, purple-lidded sharps bins 

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