Waste disposal

Special waste management and disposal in dental practices

Health requirements

Dental and medical activity is exposed to a variety of types of professional risk. The most significant of these is biological risk. Proper management of contaminated waste is of crucial importance to reduce the risk of infection for medical staff, operators and patients.

All medical establishments, both public and private, are obliged to adopt a particular method of disposal for special waste, while respecting the hygiene, health and safety regulations in force. As well as doctors’ clinics and surgeries, these health requirements apply for dental practices.

At European level, the European Waste Catalogue (EWC) is a system that classifies waste based on its composition and the process it derives from. However, regulations governing disposal vary between countries, both in the EU and in non-EU countries. Although methods and obligations differ, the various regulations in force in each European country (for example…) establish that this kind of waste (which presents a risk of infection) must be made inert and then incinerated in the dedicated, duly authorised plants.

What is special waste?

The EWC classification system divides the different types of waste according to composition and origin. Most of the waste produced in a dental practice belongs to the hazardous waste category, and prevents a risk of infection (gauzes, drapes, gowns, aspirator tips, saliva ejectors, gloves, masks, barrier film, towels, dental chair covers, …).

Special waste is subjected to an individual, controlled disposal process, because it is a possible source of infection and contagion. Dental waste that is deemed hazardous can remain in the practice until it is collected for disposal by an authorized company, as long as it is kept far from the medical staff in the establishment, the patients and third parties.

The most direct risk associated with hazardous special waste is catching infectious diseases such as TB and AIDS.

What are the key steps for the proper management and disposal of special waste?

Although there are variations from country to country, there are some steps that always have to be followed for the proper management of medical waste.

Above all, when opening a dental practice, the dentist is legally required to sign a contract with a company that is authorized to dispose of special waste.

During dental check-ups and appointments, all organic material, and/or material that has come into contact with potentially infected organic liquids, must be collected in special containers, which are usually provided by the waste disposal company, and kept separately from normal waste.
Until it has been collected by the authorised company, the special waste must be kept temporarily in the practice’s storage area.
All disposal procedures for special waste from a dental practice must be meticulously recorded and then stored and periodically reported.

The medical director of the dental establishment is responsible for the management of special waste until it is handed over to a specialized company.

After it picks up the containers of special waste, the authorized company will carry out the final disposal process usually through thermal destruction in incineration plants.

The high temperatures completely inactivate and destroy all of the harmful inert material and potentially pathogenic micro-organisms, such as spores and viral and bacterial agents.


Finally, it is important to remember that the proper management of special waste (and the biological risk connected with it) is possible only with proper knowledge of the subject, the procedures and the tasks required. Compliance with operating protocols makes it possible to operate in an organised, efficient manner, guaranteeing patients and operators a safe environment and a controlled, professional healthcare service.