Infection Control Series: How to handle waste management and laundry segregation

As per the government’s instructions, care homes that provide nursing or medical care are considered to produce healthcare waste and should comply with Health Technical Memorandum.

If one person is infected and their laundry is washed with other people’s items, it can increase the chances of the virus spreading. Similarly, what do you do with waste? Does it matter if it comes into contact with other waste? 

Handling waste safely

Consumable waste

All consumable waste items that have been in contact with an infected individual, including used tissues, should be put in a plastic rubbish bag, double bagged and tied. This should be put in a secure location awaiting uplift in line with local policies for contaminated waste.

Human waste

Human waste such as urine or faeces from individuals with possible or confirmed COVID-19 does not require special treatment and can be discharged into the sewage system. If able, the individual can use their en-suite WC.

Personal waste

Store personal waste (such as used tissues, continence pads, and other items soiled with bodily fluids) and disposable cleaning cloths securely within disposable rubbish bags. Place these bags into another bag, tying securely, and keep separate from other waste within the room. 

Dispose of items that are heavily soiled with body fluids, such as vomit or diarrhoea, or items that cannot be washed, with the owner’s consent.

How do I dispose of waste?

You should not use communal waste facilities to dispose of any waste. Care homes should have well-established processes for waste management.

Laundry segregation

Handling resident’s linen

There are no special procedures to consider with this. All linen used in the direct care of patients with possible, or confirmed, COVID-19 should immediately be managed as ‘infectious’. 

Linen must be handled, transported, and processed in a manner that prevents exposure to the skin of staff, contamination of their clothing and the environment, This can be achieved by actioning the following steps: 

  • disposable gloves and an apron should be worn when handling infectious linen 
  • all linen should be handled inside the patient room or infected area
  • A laundry receptacle should be available as close as possible to the point of use for immediate linen deposit

When handling the linen, do not:

  • Rinse, shake or sort it on removal from beds/trolleys place used/infectious linen on the floor or any other surfaces such as a locker/tabletop 
  • re-handle used/infectious linen once bagged 
  • overfill laundry receptacles 

Instead, once the linen has been removed from the infected environment, we advise taking the following steps:

  • place the linen directly into a water-soluble/alginate bag and secure 
  • place the water-soluble bag inside a clear polythene bag and secure 
  • place the polythene bag into the appropriately coloured linen bag or hamper. All linen bags/receptacles must be tagged with ward/care area and dated. 
  • Store all used/infectious linen in a designated, safe, lockable area whilst awaiting to be laundered or disposed of. 

Staff uniform

As outlined in blog 4, the appropriate use of PPE will protect staff uniforms from contamination in most circumstances. 

Laundry services should be used to launder all staff uniforms and nothing else. If there is no laundry facility available, then uniforms should be transported home in a disposable plastic bag. The bag should be disposed of into the household waste stream. 

Uniforms should be laundered separately from other household linen, in a load not more than half the machine capacity and at the maximum temperature the fabric can tolerate.

Uniforms should be laundered:

  • separately from other household linen 
  • in a load not more than half the machine capacity 
  • at the maximum temperature the fabric can tolerate, then ironed or tumbled-dried. 

PLEASE NOTE: It is best practice to change into and out of uniforms at work and not wear them when travelling; this is based on public perception rather than evidence of infection risk. 

A report by the Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE) builds further on these instructions and specifies the following actions should be taken with laundry and waste management. 

  • Wash items as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Do not wash dirty laundry that has been in contact with an ill person with other people’s items.

Read more from our Infection Control series

Part 1: Using the correct cleaning chemicals

Part 2: Understanding the national colour-code system

Part 3: How to implement isolation measures in care homes and protect against loneliness

Part 4: A complete guide to Personal Protective Equipment 

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