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Sustainability is becoming a key issue in the UK’s healthcare sector, for both private providers and the NHS. However, with the numerous issues facing the NHS currently, and the ongoing Reforms, sustainability has

previously remained lower down the agenda. But with cost savings available through improved waste management and

Governmental pressure to improve sustainability across the private and public sectors, it is coming to the forefront of Trust strategies.

Brendan Fatchett, sales and marketing director at SRCL, discusses the challenges and opportunities of more sustainable waste management.


he NHS currently produces in excess of 250,000 tonnes of waste each year, which is split across a variety of domestic, clinical and infectious materials. This diversity of waste streams makes waste management a much more complex issue than for other public sector organisations and is in part an explanation as to why the health service is lagging behind more ‘environmentally- conscious’ sectors.


As this mindset is changing, there is an important role for educating healthcare professionals about the importance of improving recycling levels and reducing reliance on landfill. The NHS Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) is leading the way, with its Carbon Reduction Strategy (CRS), which is a positive start in


identifying the key areas of focus moving forward. Consultation around the CRS demonstrates that there is significant support amongst NHS Trusts – indeed of the 66 per cent of the NHS organisations that responded, 95 per cent strongly supported the NHS acting as a leading organisation in reducing carbon. Significantly, 65 per cent felt that the measures proposed in the draft strategy were not ambitious enough. A key starting point for many Trusts is to look at the waste they produce and how it is currently treated. For instance, healthcare organisations are faced with the additional challenge of managing public health and infection risk – ensuring that any waste that could be infectious, such as needles, sharps and blood-stained items, is correctly handled. This makes


waste segregation more difficult to introduce and requires very stringent monitoring. It only takes one item placed in the wrong waste stream to cause an issue.

Indeed, the Royal College of Nursing estimates that just 10 – 15 per cent of healthcare waste is infectious or hazardous, while research has shown that between 40 - 50 per cent of waste ending up in clinical waste bags is domestic waste. Therefore, it is clear that stringent waste segregation offers cost savings, as well as being more sustainable as recycling is higher up the national waste hierarchy. However, this must be weighed up against managing potential risk by ensuring the correct safeguards are in place.

Just recently, the different categories of

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