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January 2020

What does our legislation say about Sanitary Waste Disposal?

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Hygiene Specialists, Feminine Hygiene

In February last year I wrote a blog entitled Does your business comply with sanitary waste disposal legislation? The blog has been one of our most popular, however, we were recently asked by a customer to clarify the legislation surrounding sanitary waste disposal and to quote the specific sections so that he could educate himself and make a responsible decision regarding the best course of action for his business.

We thought that it was an excellent question and the ideal opportunity to remind ourselves - and our readers - about the legal aspects of this important service. And in case you were wondering, that’s my desk in the header image, covered in ALL the relevant pieces of information.

To answer the question regarding how commercial volumes of sanitary waste should be disposed of,  we have taken a holistic view of the various (and many) legislative sources within our South African law, and have analysed the legislation in order to ensure that our customers are 'covered' from all angles, as there is - unfortunately - no one definitive clause that covers sanitary waste. 

What is covered quite clearly in our current legislation is:

  • Domestic sanitary waste;  which can be disposed of into the municipal stream (your household rubbish bin).
  • Sanitary health care risk waste;  which is defined specifically as waste that is generated in a healthcare setting, and which must be disposed of in accordance with the strict rules governing health care risk waste. 

Commercial volumes of sanitary waste (the volumes generated by an office building for example) are not covered in just one specific clause, however, below are the various pieces of legislation upon which I have drawn in order to present a clearer picture to our customers and readers:

1. The Occupational Health and Safety Act

This gives workers the right to a healthy and safe work environment. 

Employers must make sure that the workplace is safe and healthy and mustn't allow any worker to do work which is potentially dangerous. Employers must:

  • Provide protective clothing and equipment where necessary.
  • Reduce any dangers to a minimum before issuing protective clothing.

If an employer expected their daily cleaning staff to clean and empty feminine hygiene units, they would need to comply with the above regulations regarding protective clothing (especially gloves to prevent needle-stick injuries as contaminated needles are often disposed of into FHUs). 

Due to the fact that sanitary waste is a blood product, there is a high risk of illness caused by cross-contamination for cleaners that do not have suitable PPE. However, you should still be asking the following questions:

  • Where would the daily cleaner put the sanitary waste? 
  • Has the sanitary waste been treated in any way?

The reason for these questions has to do with the nature of sanitary waste - which as a blood product is by its very nature is a ‘risk’ waste.  Initial technicians are trained to safely handle contaminated waste and are issued with all the required PPE to do so with risking their health, or the health and safety of our customers. 

2. The National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 59 of 2008 (NEMWA) (pg 12)

This categorises waste into 2 categories: General Waste and Hazardous waste.

  • General waste is defined as waste that does not pose an immediate hazard or threat to health or to the environment and includes domestic waste.
  • Hazardous waste is defined as any waste that contains organic or inorganic elements or compounds that may - owing to the inherent physical, chemical or toxicological characteristics of that waste - have a detrimental impact on health and the environment

The possibility of cross-contamination from infected blood logically puts sanitary waste into the Hazardous category. Based on the above definition of Hazardous waste, the Western Cape Government has stated their position on sanitary waste as follows: 

"All sanitary waste - excluding that generated in households (domestic) - must be treated before it can be disposed of at any waste disposal site in the Western Cape."

This means that businesses in the Western Cape (and, we would argue - the rest of the country) cannot simply throw untreated sanitary waste into municipal rubbish bins. 

By expecting that of their cleaning staff, they would not only be in breach of the OHSA, but they would also be in breach of NEMWA, as sanitary waste is hazardous waste and must, therefore, be treated before it can be disposed of.  

In addition, hazardous waste may only be disposed of at hazardous landfill sites, to which the general public does not have access.  Initial FHUs contain a biological agent which not treat the sanitary waste, but also deodorise the units.

NEMWA (Part 6: treatment, processing and disposal) also goes on to state that:

No person may dispose of waste in a manner that is likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to health and wellbeing. Subsection 1 (above) need not be complied with if:

a) the waste was generated as a result of normal household activities

Normal household activities cover domestic sanitary waste, meaning that domestic sanitary may be disposed of in the municipal waste stream (landfill). But commercial volumes of sanitary waste (hazardous waste) may not because by doing so one would cause pollution of the environment or harm to health and wellbeing.

3. The Draft Health Care Risk Waste Regulations (part of NEMWA, act 59 of 2008)

This defines Health Care Risk waste as waste capable of producing disease, and includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Infectious waste
  • Pathological waste etc

Infectious waste is defined as material suspected to contain pathogens (bacteria, viruses parasite or fungi) in sufficient concentrations or quantity to cause disease in susceptible hosts. Based on this definition, sanitary waste is also classed as Infectious waste.

However, the National Regulations on Health Care Risk Waste (HCRW) also define HCRW as waste that is generated specifically at a healthcare facility, which of course the average commercial customer is not. Hence the gap in the legislation. 

4. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry

Furthermore, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry states in its Policy on the Disposal of Sanitary Waste a that their preferred method of treatment for large volumes of sanitary waste is incineration. Again, this option is not available to the general public. In order to utilise any other disposal and treatment methods, one must submit an application and a motivational report.

I hope the above clarifies why commercial volumes of sanitary waste cannot simply be disposed of into the rubbish bin, to wind up on the local landfill, and why you should invest in a feminine hygiene service from a reputable hygiene services provider.  

Did you know that we have an industry expert endorsement for our PLUS by Initial service
Read our endorsement from Dr A Baldwin on our website.  For more helpful information on all things related to hygiene, contact Initial or sign up to our blog.

If you are concerned about compliance in your business, contact Initial for a free survey. Initial is a registered Waste Carrier and will provide you with a certificate of disposal. Our feminine hygiene service is a proactive and multi-layered approach to the management of sanitary waste.

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Wondering where else you might need some assistance in optimising your office hygiene? Take a look at out Hygiene Hotspot map to discover the hygiene hotspots in your office and how to keep them clean.

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

I joined Rentokil Initial South Africa in 2004 as the PA to the MD, and after 6 months maternity leave I re-joined the Company in 2009 as the Marketing Co-ordinator for Rentokil. I'm now the Marketing Communication Manager for Rentokil Initial. I'm still terrified of cockroaches (Americana's only!) but the rest of the creepy crawlies we deal with don't really bug me (see what I did there?), so I guess I'm in the right industry! I am passionate about what we do here at Rentokil Initial and also write for our Hygiene Blog, which can be found at blog.initial.co.za, and our Ambius blog - https://www.ambius.co.za/blog. Life outside of Rentokil Initial mostly revolves around my daughter, who has just turned twelve, and my husband (who is a bit older). I love living in Cape Town and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else in the world.

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The Ultimate Guide to Safe Sanitary Waste Disposal from the experts in hygiene, Initial Hygiene South Africa

Download our Ultimate Guide to Safe Sanitary Waste Disposal

Ensure that your organisation meets the legal requirements for the disposal of sanitary waste by learning what constitutes sanitary waste and how you should dispose of it, in this comprehensive guide on the subject.
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