Coronavirus (COVID-19): disposing of waste
How to dispose of waste, including face coverings, personal protective equipment (PPE) and rapid lateral flow tests.
Applies to England
This guidance applies in England only.
This guidance does not apply to:
- primary care providers
- care homes
- home care
If you work in any of these settings and are not sure how to manage PPE waste, ask your employer for guidance.
Read guidance for:
- COVID-19: admission and care of people in care homes
- COVID-19: how to work safely in domiciliary care in England
- COVID-19: waste management standard operating procedure
The rapid lateral flow test waste guidance only applies to tests approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRC) and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Reusing and safely disposing of face coverings and PPE
Read guidance on how to make a cloth face covering.
You should wash and reuse cloth face coverings to prevent and reduce waste.
If you need to throw away used face coverings or PPE, such as gloves:
- dispose of them in your ‘black bag’ waste bin at home or at work, or a litter bin if you’re outside
- do not put them in a recycling bin as they cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities
- take them home with you if there is no litter bin - do not drop them as litter
You do not need to:
- put them in an extra bag
- store them for a time before throwing them away
Disposing of face coverings or PPE if you or a family member are self-isolating
If you or members of your household are self-isolating and need to dispose of any used face coverings or PPE, you should:
- double bag them
- store them for 72 hours before putting them in a ‘black bag’ waste bin
Do not put them in a recycling bin.
Remove PPE carefully, and avoid touching the inside of your face covering.
After you remove your PPE or face covering, wash your hands or use hand sanitiser.
Disposing of rapid lateral flow home test kits
If you’re doing a home rapid lateral flow test, you should dispose of the used rapid lateral flow kit in your waste bin at home or at work. Used test kit items could include the:
- test strip
- extraction tube
Separate the used rapid lateral flow kit from any recyclable material and recycle it, if possible. Recyclable material could include the:
- cardboard packaging
- cardboard tube holder
- paper instruction booklet
Disposing of waste at a workplace
Read guidance for employers and businesses on how to make your workplace COVID-19-secure.
What you need to provide for employees
If you run a business or organisation, you should make sure:
- extra bins are provided for your staff and customers to throw away their waste face coverings and PPE, and any other additional waste, such as takeaway packaging and disposable tableware
- staff and customers do not put face coverings and PPE in a recycling bin as they cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities
- bins are emptied often, so they do not overflow and create litter
Disposing of your workplace PPE and face covering waste
You do not need to collect PPE separately but, if you do, you must describe and code your waste correctly.
Ask your waste contractor if there is anything else you need to do.
If your staff are using PPE at work to protect against risks other than COVID-19, they can throw it away in the usual way.
You can put used disposable face coverings and PPE in an ‘offensive waste’ collection (yellow bags with a black stripe), if you have one.
You may be able to use specialist PPE recycling services for some items. Ask your waste contractor.
Workplace cleaning waste
You might continue to do extra cleaning in workplaces, business premises and public places.
If you do and it creates additional waste, you should still dispose of this waste as normal.
Put used cloth and wipes in the ‘black bag’ waste bin.
You do not need to put them in an extra bag or store them for a time before throwing them away.
If you’re managing a suspected or confirmed outbreak of COVID-19 follow the guidance on cleaning non-healthcare settings.
Disposing of rapid lateral flow test kits at businesses and schools
Follow this guidance for rapid lateral flow testing being done as an additional function to normal business, such as at a:
- workplace that is not a registered healthcare facility and not a dedicated site for the purpose of the NHS Test and Trace service
Rapid lateral flow test kit waste from these locations is not considered to be healthcare waste. Rapid lateral flow waste can be managed alongside other wastes at your location - for example, black bag waste.
Put the following in your black bag waste bins:
- all of the used rapid lateral flow test kit (for example, the swab, test strip, sachet and extraction tube)
- any disposable equipment such as face coverings, gloves or aprons worn during the rapid lateral flow testing process, either by those doing the test or those supervising others
You should discuss your arrangements for the management of rapid lateral flow test kit wastes with your waste management contractor.
Separating recyclable materials
You should separate the used rapid lateral flow kit from any recyclable material, such as the cardboard packaging, tube holder and paper instruction booklet.
Recyclable materials can be recycled or disposed of through your existing waste streams.
Waste duty of care for businesses and schools
Under your waste management duty of care you must make sure that all waste you produce, including that from the rapid lateral flow test kits, is dealt with by a licensed waste management company.
Read guidance from the Department for Education for more information on disposing of PPE and face coverings in schools.
Disposing of waste at registered healthcare facilities and mass testing locations
Rapid lateral flow waste from registered healthcare facilities and dedicated mass testing locations should be coded as non-hazardous offensive healthcare waste.
Waste separation and storage
You should separate waste:
- recyclable material, such as the cardboard packaging, tube holder and paper instruction booklet
- test kit items (for example, the swab, test strip, sachet and extraction tube)
You must follow guidance on waste codes for mass testing.
This waste is not classed as infectious waste and so you should not place it in orange bags.
You must store this waste following the health technical memoranda (HTM) 07-01 packaging guidance.
Waste collection and disposal
This waste should be collected in either of the following ways:
- as part of the site’s existing washroom or healthcare waste collection service
- as a separate non-hazardous offensive healthcare waste collection service
This waste must be collected separately to your recyclable material and residual (black bag) waste.
Outer packaging provided with the rapid lateral flow test kits can be recycled or disposed of through your existing waste streams.
Waste duty of care and waste facilities
All your waste must be dealt with by a licensed waste management company.
This is in accordance with your waste duty of care.
Following collection, any used swabs, test strips, sachets and extraction tubes must be taken to one of the following:
- a facility permitted by the Environment Agency to accept this waste, including municipal waste incinerators temporarily permitted to accept this waste under a regulatory position statement
- a landfill site permitted to accept this waste
- a waste transfer facility where they are not mixed with any other healthcare wastes that is permitted (including those who have an approved relevant local enforcement position) to accept this waste and manage this alongside other mixed wastes at that facility
Rapid lateral flow test sites will get instructions on the correct way to dispose of testing kit equipment and consumables.
Waste management businesses
Waste management businesses should continue to follow appropriate guidance for hygiene and health and safety practices. Waste from rapid lateral flow tests and the testing process do not present any increased risk compared to that of personal hygiene waste.
Litter picking during COVID-19
If you see litter, you can report it to your local council.
When you do litter-picking, you should follow the guidance on how to stay safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
If you collect littered face coverings or PPE, handle these with care. Dispose of them in a ‘black bag’ bin, not in a recycling bin. You should use safety equipment, including thick gloves, litter-pickers and heavy-duty bags.
Read further information on the Keep Britain Tidy website.
Last updated 19 July 2021 + show all updates
Updated the guidance with what you need to do from 19 July.
Added guidance on how to dispose of lateral flow tests.