Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

The precautions of clinical waste: disposable medical sharps in the United Kingdom

By Katherine Angel


This article deals with recent changes in UK guidance on clinical waste, in particular a shift to disposable, single-use instruments and sharps. I use interviews conducted with nurses from a GP practice and two clinical waste managers at alternative treatment and incineration sites as a springboard for reflection on the relationship between the legislation on clinical waste management and its implementation. Scrutinizing the UK guidance, European legislation and World Health Organization principles, I draw out interviewees’ concerns that the changed practices lead to an expansion of the hazardous waste category, with an increased volume going to incineration. This raises questions regarding the regulations’ environmental and health effects, and regarding the precautionary approach embedded in the regulations. Tracing the diverse reverberations of the term ‘waste’ in different points along the journeys made by sharps in particular, and locating these questions in relation to existing literature on waste, I emphasize that public health rationales for the new practices are not made clear in the guidance. I suggest that this relative silence on the subject conceals both the uncertainties regarding the necessity for these means of managing the risks of infectious waste, and the tensions between policies of precautionary public health and environmental sustainability

Topics: RA
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2009a). Hepatitis B kills 57 in lucrative Indian trade in recycled medical waste. Sunday Times,
  2. (2009b). Used needles are causing a health crisis in India. Sunday Times,
  3. (2000). A Richter scale for risk? In
  4. (2007). Challenging the ‘refuse revolution’: War, waste and the rediscovery of recycling, doi
  5. (2009). Coming round to recycling. doi
  6. (2002). Commodifying bodies. doi
  7. (2000). Dangerization and the end of deviance. doi
  8. (2005). Environment Agency (n.d.). Environmental facts and figures: Waste incineration, URL (accessed February 2009):
  9. (2009). Environmental waste in health care. doi
  10. (2007). From the cult of waste to the trash heap of history: The politics of waste in socialist and postsocialist Hungary. doi
  11. (1997). From the positive to the regulatory state: Causes and consequences of changes in the mode of governance. doi
  12. (2005). Hazardous waste (England and Wales) regulations 2005. London: The Stationery Office.
  13. (1999). Health Services Advisory Committee doi
  14. (2006). Health technical memorandum 07–01: Safe management of healthcare waste. London: The Stationery Office.
  15. (2005). Healthcare waste management: A case study from the National Health Service in Cornwall, United Kingdom. doi
  16. (1982). Judgement under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases Cambridge: Cambridge UP. doi
  17. (2005). KATHERINE ANGELDepartment for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
  18. (2005). Laws of fear: Beyond the precautionary principle. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. doi
  19. (2009). Modernity and the politics of waste in Britain. In
  20. (2008). Nosocomial HIV infection: epidemiology and prevention, a global perspective.
  21. (1994). Recycling and the politics of urban waste. doi
  22. (1993). Recycling and waste: An exploration of contemporary environmental policy.
  23. (1996). Regulatory legitimacy in the European context: the British Health and Safety Executive.
  24. (2003). Remaking life and death: Towards an anthropology of the biosciences. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press/Oxford: James Currey.
  25. (1982). Risk and culture: An essay on the selection and technological and environmental dangers. doi
  26. (2003). Risk and dirt.
  27. (2002). Risk and reason: Safety, law, and the environment. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  28. (2005). Safe healthcare waste management: Policy paper by the World Health Organization.
  29. (1998). Safe management of wastes from healthcare activities. Geneva: World Health Organization.
  30. (2001). Solutions to health care waste: Life-cycle thinking and ‘green’ purchasing. Environmental Health Perspectives, doi
  31. (2008). Sustainable development waste, URL (accessed
  32. (2006). The ethics of waste: How we relate to rubbish. doi
  33. (2006). Tissue economies: Blood, organs and cell lines in late capitalism. doi
  34. (2004). Wasted lives: Modernity and its outcasts.

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.