Don’t be rubbish with your rubbish! – Luke Rutterford, Technical Manager, Rentokil Initial

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  Posted by: Dental Design      3rd May 2018

Learning is the key to overcoming the barriers to successful waste management

‘Reduce, recycle, reuse’ is a well-known statement that is designed to encourage everyone to decrease the impact of their waste on the environment. It is also common to have several types of bins that we need to separate our rubbish into (e.g. for glass, plastic and paper, and food waste). However, while we may have good intentions to throw away our rubbish in the right way, we are not always as effective as we could be for various reasons.

Over the past few decades, we have become increasingly aware of the need to correctly dispose of the waste from our own homes, and we have begun to make strides in recycling our rubbish. In 2014, the UK produced a total of 202.8 million tonnes waste, with households generating 13.7% of that total, and the recycling rate for waste from households in 2015 was 43.9%.[1]

However, many people still do not dispose of their household rubbish in the correct way. This can be seen in the fact that the annual rate of recycling of household waste in 2015 had decreased from 44.8% in 2014. The recycling rate had previously been growing year on year and this was the first time that the rate had been lower than 44% since 2011.[2] An annual survey of UK households that obtained evidence of current attitudes, knowledge and behaviour in relation to recycling found that two-thirds of UK households (66%) were uncertain about how to correctly dispose of one or more items and that just over half (56%) were mistaken about at least one item they thought they were disposing of correctly. In addition, while only 12% correctly recycled and 20% were mostly separating items into the correct categories, 21% did not bother.[3] Clearly, there is still room for improvement.


What are the barriers?

What stops people from correctly sorting their rubbish into the right categories? A number of barriers exist in terms of household waste, including a lack of bin capacity, food residue on items and a lack of information about what happens to the waste and what the benefits are.[4] A lack of motivation is also a barrier.[5] According to a survey by the Waste Resources Action Programme, people state that perceived hygiene issues are an issue about disposing of food waste, whereas for non-food items, around four in five households are unsure about which container to put at least one type of material in. Being certain is an important factor because, as the survey found, as confidence about what can and cannot be recycled increases, so does the level of recycling. Furthermore, people who are confident about what can and cannot be recycled are much more likely to report that they have received information about it.[6] Having more information and better knowledge about the correct disposal of waste appears to be one key to improving waste management.


Dental practices and waste management

For dental practices, it is necessary to segregate the various types of waste they produce (general domestic and the clinical/practice waste) so it can be safely handled, recycled, treated and/or disposed of properly and legally. Having a good understanding and suitable information about dental waste management reduces the risk of the transmission of diseases as well as potential damage to the environment. In addition, it is necessary to comply with the legislation regarding some types of waste, such as the 991 EU Directive on Hazardous Waste, which controls how amalgam is disposed of. For effective waste management in dental practices, it is essential to know about the correct type of container for each waste stream and the best practice colour coding system designed to make the process easier and more efficient. In one study that included 177 dentists from eight dental hospitals, it was found that 69% strongly agreed that the use of colour codes for segregation of waste is vital.[7] To feel confident about waste management in the dental practice, continued learning is therefore an important and effective step.


Increasing knowledge to overcome the barriers

One way in which dental practices can learn more about the correct disposal and separation of waste is through e-learning. This method is effective because it is cost efficient and the training can happen anywhere and at any time. For example, the myLearning customer portal from Initial Medical provides a way for its customers to further staff education and knowledge through its interactive online learning. Each e-learning module is concise, easy to follow, and should take no more than 10 minutes to complete, with interactive videos, mini quizzes and useful facts included. The waste management module, for example, provides in-depth training about the correct procedures for managing clinical waste and how to comply with relevant legislation.


In order to become better at disposing of our rubbish, learning more about it is key and this increases confidence. Education about waste management is important for dental professionals not only to reduce the risk of the transmission of diseases from clinical waste and to protect the environment, but also to comply with the relevant legislation.


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About Initial Medical

Initial Medical is an expert in healthcare waste management, providing a complete collection, disposal and recycling service for hazardous and non-hazardous waste and offensive waste produced by businesses and organisations within the UK.


The safe management of healthcare waste is vital to ensure your activities are not a risk to human health.  Initial Medical’s healthcare waste services ensure that all of your waste is stringently handled in compliance with legislation and in accordance with Safe Management of Healthcare Waste best practice guidelines, providing you with the peace of mind that you are adhering to current legislation.



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Initial Medical is a division of Rentokil Initial plc.


[1] Department for the Environment Food & Rural Affairs. UK Statistics on Waste. December 2016. Government Statistical Service. [Accessed November 2017].

[2] Department for the Environment Food & Rural Affairs. Digest of Waste and Resource Statistics 2017 edition. [Accessed November 2017].

[3] Department for the Environment Food & Rural Affairs. Digest of Waste and Resource Statistics 2017 edition. [Accessed November 2017].

[4] Department for the Environment Food & Rural Affairs. Digest of Waste and Resource Statistics 2017 edition. [Accessed November 2017].

[5] Department for the Environment Food & Rural Affairs. Digest of Waste and Resource Statistics 2017 edition. [Accessed November 2017].

[6] WRAP. 3Rs recycling knowledge, attitudes and reported behavior survey 2015. [Accessed November 2017].


[7] Rudraswamy S, Sampath N, Doggalli N. Staff’s attitude regarding hospital waste management in the dental college hospitals of Bangalore city, India. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2012;16(2):75-78.


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