Initial Medical: The Black Code

Law & Regulation

#Follow the Colour Code with Initial Medical reaches its climax with the final colour in the coding system – black

The colour black has many, often contrasting, meanings and associations. On the one hand, it is connected with power, mystery, authority, elegance, sexuality, formality and sophistication. On the other, it is linked with fear, death, evil, aggression, rebellion, control, the unknown and depression. Just as white is the absence of colour, black is the absorption of all colours and the absence of light. It could almost be seen as an anti-colour.

The strength of the colour will often evoke strong emotions and it can make one feel inconspicuous while providing a sense of restful emptiness. The word is generally used with a negative charge – ‘blackmail’, ‘blacklist’ and ‘black hole’ etc.

Around the globe, the colour black conjures even more contrasting meanings. In Chinese culture, for example, every colour corresponds with one of the five primary elements, a direction, and one of the seasons – black is associated with water, north and winter. In the West, black is a symbol for mourning and is the colour of clothes worn during a funeral – in places such as rural Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, widows traditionally wear black for the rest of their lives. In several western cultures, a black cat crossing one’s path has significant meaning as well – it is unlucky in England, but lucky in various other countries such as Italy.

Black is further used across nearly all industries as the colour for rubbish and waste, the ‘black sack’ having become a household name. More specifically, black is the colour allocated to mixed municipal waste in the Department of Health’s Safe Management of Healthcare Waste Memorandum, which provides a colour protocol to segregate and dispose of different waste streams effectively within the dental practice.

Mixed municipal waste can be very varied in contents. It includes, but is certainly not limited to:

• Packaging
• Tissues
• Disposable cups and drinks cans
• Food wrappers
• Cut flowers (that have wilted or died)

In establishments like dental practices, where various different clinical waste streams are generated, it is important to separate general municipal waste items for cost-effective waste disposal and collection procedures. Because ‘black’ waste is non-infectious, non-hazardous and non-toxic, in most cases it poses the lowest risk of harm to professionals, patients and the environment and so is taken to landfill for disposal. No special bins or containers are required for mixed municipal waste – just the trusty black sack.

As we reach the end of our blog series, we hope you are now more confident about which items are destined for which waste stream, and the colour and types of containers each require. Correct waste segregation and disposal is not only an element of regulatory compliance for dental practices, it also ensures the safety of staff and patients, while protecting the environment and general public from unnecessary harm.

In summary:
• Orange – Clinical and infectious waste
• Blue – Medicinal waste
• White – Dental amalgam waste
• Yellow – Clinical and highly infectious waste
• Red – Anatomical waste
• Tiger – Offensive / hygiene waste
• Purple – Cytotoxic and cytostatic waste
• Black – Mixed municipal waste

Top tips:
• Make sure your dental containers contain a mercury suppressant to protect you and your staff from the hazards of mercury
• Always make sure sharps waste is disposed of in rigid containers
• Locate the disposal bins and containers as close to the source of waste generation as possible
• Put up posters in appropriate places to remind staff about what types of waste are allocated to which colour
• Organise waste collection with a contractor you trust to understand the regulations and help you maximise compliance with ease

 If you have any further questions about waste segregation and disposal, contact Initial Medical or ‘Follow the Colour Code’ for more details by visiting  or using #followthecolourcode on twitter.