Safe disposal of household refuse

October 2008

If household waste is not safely disposed of, it can pose a health risk. This briefing material has been produced for those who work in healthcare professions, the media and others who are looking for background understanding of hygiene and/or those who are responsible for providing guidance to the public on how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in their homes.

What are the risks?

Safe disposal of household waste is an important aspect of home hygiene. The general public see waste as offensive and aesthetically unacceptable. However, once disposed of safely into a plastic bag or bin and sealed, it is unlikely to be an infection risk. Of particular importance is organic waste, particularly food waste. At ambient temperatures, pathogens in organic household waste can multiply to high numbers. If waste material is not disposed of securely flies, cockroaches, rats, .mice etc. can gain access and can then spread the germs to hand and food contact surfaces in the home. Hands can become contaminated whilst handling contaminated refuse. Indiscriminate disposal of household solid waste in the vicinity of the home apart from fouling the general environment, adds to fly breeding and rat/insect harbouring.

It is particularly important to ensure that any “clinical waste” is disposed of safely but not to overstate the hazards. Some studies have shown that the microbes most usually recovered from items such as stoma bags, dressings and sputum containers are those which are found either as normal body flora or widespread in the environment. In general, normal household waste that contains food waste contains more microbes that are hazardous to health than waste classed as healthcare waste.

The risk to health occurs when:

  • waste is not immediately disposed of safely and is left to attract vermin and flies
  • waste is left for children to come into contact with and bring back into the house
  • sharp objects such as glass are placed unwrapped in household waste and injury occurs
  • bins are not kept clean and dry. These then become a breeding ground for germs
  • “spillages” of waste are not removed and the area thoroughly cleaned
  • hands are not washed after handling waste or touching waste bins.

Safe disposal of refuse

General waste

  • All waste should be placed in a suitable waste bin with a close fitting lid.
  • Food waste should preferably placed in a bin which has a bin liner. The bin liner should then be tied or sealed with a tag.
  • All waste bins should be kept clean and dry.
  • Foot-operated pedal bins are preferred. This prevents hands picking up germs by touching the bin lid.
  • Outside bins should have tightly fitting lids, such that rats, rodents, flies and other insects do not have access to the waste.
  • Waste should not be discarded carelessly as it attracts vermin and insects. It should always be placed into a waste bin

Hygiene tips for the bin

  • Spray the inside of the bin with disinfectant after every local authority collection and leave to dry
  • Give the handle and lid of the bin a quick spray and wipe with a disinfectant or disinfectant cleaner.
  • Always wash your hands after touching the bin
  • To limit the build up of germs and keep bad smells to a minimum, remember to:

-keep the bin lid closed

-wrap up organic food waste properly to limit the build up of germs

-follow local guidelines for recycling

How do I recycle?

Recycling at home is really simple and makes sense. One of the best ways of limiting the build up of germs in the bin is to throw away less and recycle more. For food waste, many councils who refuse to recycle recommend home composting.

For special items associated with healthcare at home

  • Catheter bags or stoma bags can be emptied in the toilet and the empty bag wrapped in a plastic bag for disposal with the general household waste.
  • In some circumstances when there is known infection in the home, there may be a special local collection service.
  • When needles and other sharps are used, a sharps box should be available for disposal.
  • Paper tissues, if used, should be discarded into a bin lined with a plastic bag immediately after use. Tie the top of the bag before placing it in the general household waste.
  • Always wash hands after handling tissues, waste, waste bins, or bags.

Hygiene measures for disposal of needles

Used needles disposed of in an inappropriate manner pose a serious risk to health.

  • People who use injectable drugs for healthcare or illegal purposes should use a sharps box for disposal.
  • Local needle exchange services should be accessed and used by intravenous drug users.
  • The prescribing doctor should ensure a sharps box is made available wherever patients are administering injectable drugs at home.
  • Obtain support and advice about the management of needlestick and sharps injuries from the local Health Protection Team.
  • Needles found discarded dangerously (e.g. in public toilets or stairwells) should be reported to the local Environmental Health Department.

In the UK, there is a legislative framework for the management of waste (see Further reading). If someone in the home is receiving healthcare, a clinical waste collection may be required for any healthcare waste. Seek advice from your local Health Protection Team or Environmental Health Officers.

IFH Home Hygiene Guidelines and Training Resources on home hygiene

  1. Guidelines for prevention of infection and cross infection the domestic environment. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Available from:
  2. Recommendations for selection of suitable hygiene procedures for use in the domestic environment. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Available from:
  3. Guidelines for prevention of infection and cross infection the domestic environment: focus on issues in developing countries. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Available from:
  4. Home Hygiene - prevention of infection at home: a training resource for carers and their trainers. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Available from:
  5. Home Hygiene in Developing Countries: Prevention of Infection in the Home and Peridomestic Setting. A training resource for teachers and community health professionals in developing countries. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Available from:

Further reading

1.Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (1999) The Stationary Office, London.

2.Department of the Environment (1990) The Environmental Protection Act. The Stationary Office, London.

3.Gibbs J. (1991) Clinical waste disposal in the community. Nursing Times 87(2);40-41.

4.Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) The Stationary Office, London.

5.Institute of Wastes Management (2000) Health care waste management and minimisation. IWM Business Services Ltd, 9 Saxon Court, St Peters Gardens, Northampton, NN1 1SX.

6.Medical Devices Agency (2001) Safe use and disposal of sharps. MDA SN 2001(19).

7.Philips G. (1999) Microbiological aspects of clinical waste. Journal of Hospital Infection 41;1-6.

8.The Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) Regulations (1991) The Stationary Office, London.

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