Veterinary Waste Guide 2024

dog and stethoscope

Do you care about sustainable veterinary waste as much as we do? You’d be barking mad not to!

Every day, veterinary clinics across the globe treat countless animals, ensuring their health and well-being. But behind the scenes, a hidden issue arises: veterinary waste.

This waste stream, encompassing everything from used bandages to expired medications, poses a potential threat to human health and the environment if not managed properly.

Our purr-suasive article explores the world of veterinary waste, exploring its various types, the specific risks associated with hazardous materials, and the importance of proper disposal practices.

We’ll uncover the regulations that guide safe handling and explore best practices for veterinary clinics to ensure a healthy environment for both animals and humans.

Table of contents

Types of Hazardous Veterinary Waste

Veterinary clinics produce a range of waste, from hazardous materials like chemotherapy drugs and sharps to everyday recyclables.

Understanding these categories, especially those posing risks to health and the environment, is crucial for proper disposal.

This section will explore safe handling and disposal methods for various veterinary waste streams, ensuring a clean and healthy environment for staff, pets, and the community.

Cytotoxic and cytostatic pharmaceuticals

The medicines used to treat cancer or similar conditions in animals. These drugs are also known as hazardous or special waste because they are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic for reproduction.

This means that they can be harmful to human health and the environment if not disposed of properly.

It is important to segregate cytotoxic and cytostatic waste from other types of veterinary waste.

This will help to ensure that the hazardous materials are disposed of safely.

Cytotoxic and cytostatic waste should be collected in specially marked containers, typically purple bins with a cytotoxic waste symbol.

Contaminated sharps

sharps needle syringe and cat in veterinary clinic

Contaminated sharps are any sharp objects that have been used in a medical procedure and are now potentially infectious.

This includes items like:

  • Needles and syringes
  • Scalpels and lancets
  • IV catheters
  • Suture needles
  • Blood collection tubes

Expired medications


Expired medications pose a hidden threat. These medications, often used to treat serious conditions, can lose potency over time, rendering them ineffective for your animals.

Worse yet, some expired meds can become toxic or cause unintended side effects if accidentally ingested by animals or humans.

To ensure animal patient safety and avoid environmental contamination, expired medications should never be thrown in with general waste.

Veterinary clinics typically have designated collection bins for these drugs, allowing for proper disposal by licensed waste management companies.

By following these responsible practices, we can safeguard pets, staff, and the environment from the potential dangers of expired veterinary medical waste.

Chemotherapy waste

Chemotherapy drugs used to fight cancer in pets are potent and pose a significant health risk to humans and animals if not handled properly.

This category of veterinary waste encompasses leftover chemotherapy medications themselves, as well as any items contaminated with them during treatment.

This includes syringes, swabs, gloves, and even pet bedding or blankets that may have come into contact with the drugs.

Due to their hazardous nature, chemotherapy waste requires special disposal procedures usually handled by licensed waste management companies.


Disinfectants are used to kill germs and bacteria. However, they can also be harmful to human and animal health if not handled properly.

Leftover disinfectants and containers that held disinfectants should be disposed of as hazardous waste. Check the label or Safety Data Sheet (SDS) first. Concentrated ones are hazardous waste – don’t pour them down the drain!

Contact your local authority for proper disposal. Diluted solutions might be okay to drain with lots of water, but check first! Never mix disinfectants and rinse empty containers before tossing.


Formaldehyde is a preservative that is used to store tissues and organs. It is a hazardous waste and should be disposed of according to regulations.

Veterinary clinics and pet owners cannot handle it themselves due to strict regulations.

Contact a licensed waste disposal company registered for REACH (chemical regulations) to ensure safe and compliant disposal.

Never pour formaldehyde down drains or dispose of it with regular trash. This protects you, the environment, and public health.

Mercury thermometers

Businesses in the UK can’t toss mercury thermometers in regular bins. Instead, hire a licensed hazardous waste carrier. They’ll collect and dispose of them safely.

Until then, store the thermometer (intact or broken) in a designated hazardous waste container, which some carriers might even provide for free.

Ensure the container is labelled properly. By following these steps, businesses can ensure safe and legal disposal.

X-ray film fixer and developer

X ray of a dog

Unsure how to ditch your X-ray developer? Don’t guess! Check the label or safety sheet (SDS) first. The unused developer is likely hazardous waste.

Contact the manufacturer for proper disposal, they might even take it back! The used developer might be okay to drain but double-check the label.

Play it safe, always follow the instructions!

Types of Non-hazardous Veterinary Waste

general waste and recycling bins in office

Paper waste (office paper, printer paper, cardboard boxes, paper towels)

Most paper products can be recycled through a commercial recycling program.

Make sure to remove any sticky notes, labels, or food waste before placing them in the recycling bin.

Paper should also be free from any contamination such as stickers or grease.

Cardboard pet carriers

Cardboard pet carriers can potentially be recycled if your local program allows it.

However, you’ll need to remove any tape, labels, or staples before placing them in the cardboard recycling bin.

Heavily soiled or damaged carriers may not be accepted and might need to go in the general waste bin.

Plastic food containers

Rinse and clean any empty plastic food containers you have. If your local collector accepts them in their recycling program, you can then place them in the designated bin.

Not all waste collector accept the same types of plastic, so be sure to check their guidelines to avoid contamination.

Unused bedding

Clean, unused bedding that hasn’t been used by animals can be thrown away in regular commercial waste bins.

However, soiled bedding is considered biohazardous waste and requires special disposal methods.

Food scraps

If your clinic has a composting program, leftover fruits, vegetables, and other food scraps can be composted.

Not all waste collectors offer commercial composting services, so check with your local authority to see if this is an option.

Metal cans

Empty metal cans from food or other supplies can be recycled in disposal service programs.

However, it’s important to check with your collector for unique guidelines.

Some collectors may require rinsing the cans before placing them in the recycling bin, while others might have restrictions on the size or type of metal accepted.

Separating and Color-Coding Waste

dog in neck cover

In England and Wales, mixing different types of waste is simply not allowed by law.

The responsibility falls on the waste producer to ensure their waste is properly separated, labelled, packaged, and stored.

While not mandated by law in Scotland, segregation is still considered the best way to handle waste.

So, why is separating and colour-coding waste so important? It all boils down to a simple system for identifying and sorting waste based on its type and how it should be treated or disposed of.

This national colour-coded system helps everyone involved manage waste efficiently.

When you segregate waste, you consider two key things:

  • The waste type (identified by colour coding)
  • The appropriate packaging for that type of waste

By following these steps, we can ensure waste is handled safely and responsibly according to its specific needs.

Veterinary Waste Bag Colour Codes

Waste bag colour codes

Who regulates veterinary waste in the UK?

In the United Kingdom, veterinary waste falls under the category of animal by-products.

The main regulatory body is the European Union (EU) with its regulations directly applicable in all member states, including the UK.

However, since the UK is no longer part of the EU, there’s a split:

  • EU Regulations: Regulation (EC) 1069/2009 and its implementing Regulation (EC) 142/2011 provide the overarching framework for animal by-products including veterinary waste.
  • UK Enforcement: The Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2011 is the national legislation in England that enforces the EU Regulations.
    It applies to businesses generating, handling or disposing of veterinary waste.

Local Authorities for Compliance: It’s ultimately the responsibility of individual businesses (like veterinary clinics) to ensure they comply with the law.

Local authorities, typically the trading standards/environmental health department, are responsible for enforcing the regulations.

Devolved Administrations: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved administrations that might have parallel domestic legislation for veterinary waste management. It’s recommended to consult their specific guidance for the most up-to-date information.

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