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Keeping it clean in the washroom

30 September 2012

Are the facilities and treatments used for managing sanitary waste putting your health at risk? Following the first ever comparative sanitary waste review, Dr Emma Whitworth, technical manager analyses washroom hygiene risks

Keeping washroom facilities clean creates a good visual impression – offering a welcoming, comfortable environment – which suggests business success and a commitment to caring for staff and visitors. Strict hygiene procedures are also essential in reducing the spread of viruses and infections.

In particular, it is of paramount importance that sanitary waste is treated effectively as sanitary protection products can become contaminated with bacteria, viruses and pathogens that can survive in residues left in restroom fixtures. The humid, nutrient rich conditions found within a feminine hygiene unit are ideal to propagate the growth of micro-organisms to levels that could pose a threat to human health.

By law, sanitary waste is a controlled waste under the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011, which places a legal "duty of care", to ensure that all sanitary waste produced on your premises is correctly managed right up to the point of final disposal.

A detailed bacteriological survey of sanitary dressings carried out by C. M. Lucas and M. F. Mendes demonstrated they are grossly contaminated with a range of different pathogenic bacteria. In particular, they noted the presence of faecal organisms raising the possibility that women suffering from bacterial disorders of the digestive system (e.g. food poisoning or dysentery) could transfer pathogens onto sanitary dressings. (See Appendix1).

Hepatitis B virus (Hep B), hepatitis C virus (Hep C) and human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) have all been shown to survive outside the human body, with virus survival influenced by virus titer, the volume of blood present and environmental conditions.

The rise in popularity of air travel – and its accessibility to more people thanks to low cost airlines – means we think nothing of travelling half way across the world now. Populations also continue to rise and rapid urbanisation means more people are becoming concentrated in certain geographical areas. And where there are people in close physical proximity, there are cross contamination risks.

In its 2007 World Health Report – A Safer Future: Global Public Health Security in the 21st Century, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that, since 1967, at least 39 new pathogens have been identified. These include Ebola haemorrhagic fever, Marburg fever and SARS. The report continued: ‘Other centuries-old threats, such as pandemic influenza, malaria and tuberculosis, continue to pose a threat to health through a combination of mutation, rising resistance to antimicrobial medicines and weak health systems’. 

Potential risks to service perception
The other problem associated with the proliferation of bacteria is the certain development of unpleasant odours. A bad odour can cause damage to your service reputation but also incur costs for early bin collection and disposal. Bacteria growing on waste causes the malodour to manifest and if the numbers of bacteria present in the sanitary unit are not sufficiently reduced, your service is at a greatly increased risk of the odours rising to unpleasant levels.

It is not always enough to implement an “odour masker” or product that only kills the bacteria after direct contact for a sufficient length of time. Warm moist conditions are the ideal malodour forming bacteria breeding grounds within feminine hygiene units. Coupled with the fact that foreign and organic matter is also disposed of in the bin, the whole area of the bin needs to be sanitised to control odours effectively.


Review of technologies and treatments
Given the potential risks to human health, it is vitally important to understand the various types of technologies available that can sanitise the whole bin without compromising on cost, labour, human health, harm to the environment and your company reputation.

The first ever sanitary waste review has been conducted by our biotechnology experts, analysing the market and products and technologies available, to help organisations make an informed decision.

Our research indicates that some of the technologies and treatments used for treating sanitary waste may not reduce the risks to service operators and washroom customers of contracting viral and bacterial infections, whilst being ineffective in controlling unpleasant odours.

Treatment options
Historically, large volumes of liquid disinfectant were used to treat feminine hygiene units, but this led to an increased weight of material requiring disposal and there are concerns regarding the long-term effectiveness of liquids once they are absorbed into the sanitary waste bin.

Other sanitising products are based on gas-generating systems that produce, for example, sulphur dioxide, which then penetrates and disinfects waste. However, there is some doubt about the control of the release of the gas, as well as health and safety concerns, which has led to this technology being banned in a number of countries.

Some new products incorporate anti-microbial technologies, but many of these rely on different modes of ‘contact disinfection’ in order to work effectively. As waste accumulates in the bin, only surfaces which are able to come into direct contact with the anti-microbial agent for a sufficient length of time will be neutralised, rather than the whole surface area.

Standard methods for assessing a product’s anti-microbial efficacy, such as EN 1276, may need review, as they rely on hard surface contact disinfection testing. They do not accurately assess the bactericidal efficacy on porous surfaces or surfaces/waste which are not in direct contact with the active agent. Furthermore they only assess efficacy over a limited timeframe and not the full service cycle, which can be up to eight weeks.

Other factors which need to be considered are devices or product designs that inhibit direct contact with the anti-microbial technology such as sharp bends or small surface area to volume ratio which will decrease the efficacy of disinfection. Failure to adequately clean surfaces will also decrease efficacy.

Accurate dosing
The use of heavy liquids and bottle shakers are inherently inaccurate in measuring optimal dosing levels, leading to insufficient treatment levels or over-usage, incurring waste and unnecessary cost.

Sheets, cards, powders and sachets are recommended for highly accurate dosing and provide the most efficient and cost effective service option as they are light-weight, easy to carry and take no time to drop into the bin.

Innovative new options
To achieve the most effective treatment of sanitary waste, research indicates that a vapour phase system provides an effective means of protection against infections and control of unpleasant odours.

Dr Emma Whitworth is technical manager at Genesis Biosciences

Recognising the limitations with products available in the market place, Genesis Biosciences has developed natural anti-microbial formulations which eradicate bacteria within sanitary units, using its in-house manufacturing and laboratory facilities.

The Biosan Series, including e card and P-Max sanitary bin sanitisers have advanced vapour technology. Both products release a pleasant aroma in the surrounding washroom. In addition, e card is derived from sustainable materials and will biodegrade when disposed of. The product recently won an innovation award in the chemical products category at Pulire, an international exhibition for professional cleaning technologies.



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