How to Dispose of Used or Out-of-Date First Aid Supplies

How to Dispose of Used or Out-of-Date First Aid Supplies
2 March 2023

How to Dispose of Used or Out-of-Date First Aid Supplies

Whether you’re at work, at home, or on the go in your car, you should always have access to a well-stocked first aid kit in case of emergency. UK law requires all workplaces to provide sufficient first aid supplies to keep employees safe, and we all know that accidents don’t just happen at work, so ensuring you have at least basic first aid equipment to hand is a practical step towards improving safety at home, too. 

However, did you know that many common first aid supplies expire? And that most of them are disposable consumables meaning that they can only be used once, if at all?

This means that many medical and first aid supplies can’t be reused or safely used once they’ve passed their expiration date. For optimal patient safety, soiled, damaged, or expired supplies need to be disposed of safely and responsibly. This produces clinical waste, including first aid waste, which contributes to harmful CO2 emissions and leads to plastics ending up in landfill. Neither of these are good for the environment, presenting a challenge in making first aid sustainable. 

There are many concerns and questions raised about how sustainable first aid kits are and what solutions there are. Some options are to source reusable first aid items and ensure they are cleaned sufficiently for safe reuse (where possible), or consider making an all-natural first aid kit for use at home.

bin inside the operating room

While many healthcare providers are moving towards more sustainable solutions for plastic use, including finding ways to reduce plastic waste in hospitals, sourcing alternative material replacements to plastic products, and plastic recycling initiatives in medical settings, there is still work to be done, and there are limitations around how significantly waste can be reduced when it comes to used, soiled, damaged, or expired supplies. 

First aid waste also contributes to environmental harm, and we’re here to help you explore what can be done to tackle this universal problem. We’ve developed one of the UK’s first recycled and recyclable first aid kits to help tackle this issue, with plastic contents reduced by 94% and a 100% recycled container. We’re also committed to providing resources to help people make environmentally-friendly decisions when it comes to first aid and healthcare.

Steroplast Healthcare are committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2035 when we plan to have reduced our emissions by 100%.
See our complete Carbon Reduction Commitment here.

This article will cover what to do with first aid kit items that are out of date or have been used. We’ll explain why it’s unsafe to reuse first aid disposables, which expired products need to be removed or disposed of, and why it’s not necessarily safe to use them once they’re out of date. We’ll take you through what options there are for disposing of first aid waste safely, responsibly, and as eco-consciously as possible.

Uniquely Sustainable in the UK
Eco-Friendly First Aid Range

Discover our selection of high-quality, eco-friendly first aid products. Packaged thoughtfully in recycled materials and designed with minimal plastic use.

What to do with Out-of-Date and Expired First Aid Supplies

Most quality first aid kits will include different types of first aid equipment for different uses, and it’s important to be aware of what items have expiration or use-by dates on them so you can ensure everything in your first aid kit is in-date and safe to use. 

If you’re a business owner or designated workplace first aider it’s essential to be aware of the legal requirements for first aid kits in the workplace and make sure you’re compliant with HSE requirements. Check out our article about what should be in a workplace first aid kit and use the downloadable checklist to regularly review your kits’ contents and remove expired items before they are used by accident. 

worried mother applying plaster on elbow of daughter

Or, if you are keeping a first aid kit at home for domestic use, check out our article on essential first aid supplies with a definitive first aid equipment checklist or our checklist for a small first aid kit. Download and use these checklists to ensure you have everything you need and that all items are still in-date.

Why is it important to check for expired first aid supplies and remove them from use?

First aid products that come with an expiry date have it for a reason—your safety. According to Medical Device Regulations in the UK and EU, manufacturers of medical items with an expiry date are required to clearly display this date on the packaging. This is crucial as these items may become less safe, or even potentially dangerous to use past their expiry date.

For example, items like plasters or adhesive tapes can degrade, becoming less sticky and effective, coming loose from open wounds and increasing the likelihood of contamination. Items like disposable nitrile gloves can degrade over time, drying out and breaking or splitting when used, posing the risk of transferring blood-borne pathogens and infectious agents between the first aider and patient when used.

Sterility is also an issue for many first aid items, including dressings, eye pads, and cleansing wipes. The sterility of an item can decrease over time and manufacturers can only guarantee an item is sterile up to its expiration date. Using an expired dressing or wipe to clean and treat an open wound, for example, can be dangerous and lead to infection and illness on top of the injury being treated.

Or, if you are keeping a first aid kit at home for domestic use, check out our article on essential first aid supplies with a definitive first aid equipment checklist or our checklist for a small first aid kit. Download and use these checklists to ensure you have everything you need and that all items are still in-date.

nurse wiping sterile cleansing wipe on patient with gloves

What first aid supplies expire?

Not all first aid kit items deteriorate and expire, including:

  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Safety Pins
  • Some non-sterile bandages and non-adhesive dressings (check the packaging to be certain). However, their materials can degrade over time, so won’t be as durable or effective. 

However, any items with an expiration date on the label or packaging do expire and are not safe to keep in your first aid kit once they’re out-of-date. Common first aid items that expire and can deteriorate in quality and sterility include:

Other specialised first aid equipment that isn’t included in most standard first aid kits can also expire or become less effective, such as SWAT-T tourniquets. Their rubber can degrade over time and perform inadequately in an emergency, so always abide by the expiration date on the packaging and replace them as necessary.

Limited-time Offers
Save £105 on DefibSafe 3 Cabinets

Discounts on Industry-Leading Defibrillator Cabinets

What to do with Expired First Aid Supplies

The NHS offers guidance for returning expired medicines or out-of-date prescribed or over-the-counter medication, recommending that users return any expired goods directly to a pharmacy for safe disposal or re-use. Medicines should never be disposed of in your normal domestic waste or down the drain. Incorrectly throwing away medicines risks the products being found and used by a minor or someone the medication isn’t suitable for, and flushing medication away means that it will enter the national water system and pose serious risks to the environment. 

In the UK alone, an estimated £300million worth of prescription medication goes unused every year, significantly contributing to the growing medical waste problem worldwide, as well as squandering national healthcare’s economic resources.

Pharmacist with medicine at counter in pharmacy

While returning expired medicines to a pharmacy will go some way towards reducing waste, there isn’t a similar NHS-supported initiative for returning most standard first aid supplies, such as wound dressings, plasters, gloves, or cleansing wipes, which are often thrown away, contributing to household and business waste ending up in landfill. 

Despite the potential for more waste, it is important to ensure that you keep on top of your first aid supplies, removing and replacing any expired or damaged products, so they don’t get used by accident in a first aid emergency. 

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive offers guidance for expired first aid supplies in workplace first aid kits, stipulating that all first aid items with an expiry date in a regulation workplace first aid kit should be replaced and ‘disposed of safely’, adding that ‘for non-sterile items without dates, it is a matter of judgement, based on whether they are fit for purpose.’

While it’s important advice to ensure that all first aid supplies are in-date and safe to use supports health and safety, UK governing bodies don’t offer much guidance on how to safely dispose of expired first aid supplies in an eco-friendly, environmentally conscious way. 

If you’re a business owner looking to reduce your business’ impact on the environment, check out our knowledge hub for more articles to support you in improving workplace sustainability:

Some options for reducing your own or your business’ first aid waste include:

Returning Expired Products to the Manufacturers

Some healthcare and first aid suppliers allow for their expired products to be returned to their facility in order to recycle wherever possible, or safely dispose of specialised items safely.

Donating Out-of-date Supplies

As a rule, any organisation, including charities, cannot accept first aid items with use-by dates that have passed. If your first aid items do not have a use-by date displayed on the product or packaging, they may still be safe to use and may be donated. Here are some ideas:

  • Veterinary practices or animal shelters will accept first aid products to treat and care for animals
  • First aid training centres, army bases, community groups such as scouth clubs, Duke of Edinburgh groups, etc. can use donated products in pratical training sessions

If you have an excess of in-date medical supplies, organisations like InterCare, who collect medical supplies for rural partner health units in sub-Saharan Africa, may be able to accept donations- as long as the supplies have at least 12 months until expiry and are CE marked for quality assurance. 

Note: every organisation is different and will have different requirements and options available for accepting expired products, if at all. Always check with an organisation or charity in advance to be sure they can accept and process your donation. 

Using Expired Items at Home or for Personal Use

Some people choose to take expired first aid items from their workplace to use in their personal first aid kit at home. While we do not recommend this, many people feel it’s an effective way to minimise waste at their own risk.

putting plastic bottle into Recycling Bin on The Kitchen. Waste sorting at home.
Throw Items Away in Domestic Waste and Recycle The Packaging

Unfortunately, many of the options above are not feasible, especially living in a post-pandemic world. If your first aid kit contains soiled or damaged items or products that are no longer sterile and past their expiry date, the safest option is to simply throw them away. While it’s unfortunate for intact, quality first aid supplies to go to waste and contribute to landfill, it’s essential that you put safety first when it comes to first aid. 

While this solution is far from ideal, suppliers like Steroplast are working with industry experts to innovate, working towards developing more sustainable products to help combat unnecessary, avoidable waste.

Our new eco-friendly first aid kit comes in a container made entirely from recycled materials that can be reused over and over. The majority of the kit’s contents are wrapped in medical-grade recyclable paper to keep items sterile, or card packaging that can easily be recycled, reducing waste as much as possible. If, as a last resort, you need to throw away expired first aid items, check the packaging and recycle as much material as possible. 

Visit our
Interactive First Aid Guide

Demystify workplace first aid & find out exactly what your business needs.

What to do with Used First Aid Supplies

Can used first aid supplies be reused?

It might seem like common sense, but it’s important to clarify that, for the majority of first aid consumables, once they have been used to treat a patient and have been opened, handled, and become soiled or dirty, they cannot be reused. 

This applies to most first aid products, including used plasters, wound dressings, cleansing wipes, and used gloves. This is due to the fact that used items will become contaminated when handled and applied. Reusing contaminated products to clean or treat another injury or patient will seriously risk spreading infection. 

A soiled plaster or wound dressing will have absorbed bodily fluids (which are classified as biohazards) and can spread harmful pathogens onto other patients or the person providing first aid care. Similarly, disposable gloves and other PPE that has been used to treat a patient may have picked up bacteria and dirt that would be transferred onto other injuries or surrounding srufaces, compromising essential infection control and safety.

While there are some reusable items to put in your first aid kit that are safe to clean and use again, most items in a standard, HSE-compliant first aid kit, including our new eco-friendly recyclable first aid kit, are single-use only and need to be disposed of safely to reduce the risk of infection transmission.

How to Safely Dispose of Used First Aid Supplies

The only practical, safe option for what to do with used, soiled, or damaged first aid consumables, is to dispose of them. 

In professional healthcare settings such as hospitals or GP surgeries, clinical waste disposal procedures are strictly followed to reduce the risk of infection between multiple patients and care providers. 

If you’re providing first aid care at home, the best and safest procedure for disposing of used or soiled supplies is:

  1. Gather all used first aid disposables, including wipes, plasters, dressings, tapes, or soiled bandages, and PPE such as gloves, and seal them all in a plastic bag.
  2. Place the bag inside another and seal it (referred to as double-bagging).
  3. Place it in your standard domestic waste bag, or straight into your outdoor household waste bin ready for collection.
  4. By sealing and double-bagging used first aid waste or removing it from an area where it could be accessed by a child or mistakenly opened, the risk of bacterial transmission is decreased. 
  5. Make sure that the area you’ve been providing first aid care in, including all surfaces, are thoroughly clean with disinfectant.
  6. Wash your hands thoroughly to reduce the spread of infection.
Man washing hands with soap

Please enter your details into the form below along with any questions or comments and a member of our team will be happy to provide you with more information:

Related posts