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

By Katherine Angel

Abstract

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: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:2573

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