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Medical waste on the UK coastline


Clinical bottom line

Clinical waste on beaches has been a problem in the UK, and needlestick injury in the community is a problem.


R Philipp et al. Research and the problems of litter and medical wastes on the UK coastline. British Journal of Clinical Practice 1997 51: 164-168.


The annual Coastwatch UK study divides the coast in 0.5 km stretches, and volunteers survey a sample of these blocks in September/October. The presence or absence, and a count, of specified items of litter are recorded in the intertidal zone and the zone between mean high tide and spring high tide. Medical waste is defined as materials generated as a result of patient diagnosis, treatment, or immunisation.


In 1992, of 4,280 0.5 km units of coastline, 40% were affected by up to 19 different types of litter. There were 464 items of medical waste identified, one for every 4.7 km of surveyed coast.

The total number of different items of medical waste per 1000 kn coastline were higher in 1993 than 1992 or 1991, and unpublished comments that there was no improvement in 1994 and 1995.

Figure 1: Items of medical waste per 1000 kn coastline


The report also tells us that in 1998-1991 there were 958 issues of hepatitis B immunoglobulin for needlestick injuries in the community. Of these 16% occurred in the street, 12% from contact with rubbish, 6% in a park and 4% on the beach. Needlestick injury in the community is a problem.

Whilst it would be comforting the think that this is a problem that should have diminished because of investment in treatment plants, more contemporary information is needed. Bandolier has personal knowledge that discarded needles is also a problem in rural Oxfordshire.