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healthcare waste, which include infectious, anatomical, sharps, medicines, chemicals and domestic, have been extended to include a non-infectious offensive waste stream that doesn’t require secure and costly disposal. This means that this non- infectious waste stream – which will include domestic healthcare types of materials – such as nappies and incontinence pads – can be sent to landfill while metal surgical instruments can be recycled. While this is a positive step to reducing waste, it also brings increased risk meaning stringent segregation is required by all.

Due to the types of materials that are produced in providing healthcare, they also pose a risk if treated in the wrong process. For instance, medicine bottles disposed with domestic glass for recycling could lead to pharmaceutical active material released into sewers, while hand gels or flammable disinfectants in the wrong waste stream could cause fires at alternative treatment plants or release volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. Needles disposed into bags, rather than sharps containers can lead to needle stick injuries and the spread of infection. The importance of handling clinical waste stringently is paramount. At this initial stage of development, education and training for staff is critical. However, this comes at a time when frontline staff are incredibly stretched and budgets reduced, meaning that ensuring that correct waste segregation is front of mind at all times is incredibly difficult. It is the combination of time pressures with the

encouraged that recycling is the better option over landfill. Surprisingly,

healthcare waste is often separated into two treatment options; landfill or specialised treatment. However, there is a great opportunity for the majority of healthcare waste to be recycled, which will enable significant steps to be made in terms of sustainability.

Indeed, there is much talk of joint working across the NHS to drive


introduction of a non-infectious waste stream that poses the most risk, as it can’t be guaranteed a busy staff member won’t accidently put waste in the wrong stream. This is not meant as a disservice to the dedicated personnel providing frontline healthcare, merely recognition of the pressure they are under and the potential for spread of infection through segregation mistakes. Poor segregation also comes with a

price tag. If an infectious item is misplaced then the entire sack of waste must be treated as infectious which means it either needs to be heat treated or incinerated – which can be as much as three times more expensive than general domestic waste that can be recycled or landfilled. Once segregation is tackled, healthcare organisations need to be

innovation and deliver efficiency. This can also be relevant when it comes to waste management; choosing one partner that will take responsibility for all waste produced and ensure that it is well segregated and sent for the most relevant, cost-effective and sustainable disposal. Be it infectious waste to incineration or alternative treatment, food waste to generate energy, paper and cardboard into new packaging – the list really is endless and in reality there is a very limited waste for which there is no recycling solution. Key to achieving this is identifying a waste management partner that focuses on recycling. Many hospitals have a variety of waste management partners for the different types of waste produced, but to deliver the optimum benefits these

should be managed centrally. This will enable a combination of goals to be achieved – financial, environmental and operational. For healthcare organisations, finding more sustainable disposal options for waste is a key starting point for achieving greater sustainability. Importantly, not only will this approach reduce waste going to landfill – for which capacity is rapidly decreasing – it will save costs in the longer term as landfill taxes increase year on year as part of the Government’s Landfill Tax Escalator.

The holy grail has to be zero waste to landfill and while it is a challenge, it is one that is ultimately achievable through analysing waste produced and ensuring that the correct recycling partners are identified to maximise that waste as a future resource – be that energy generated by incineration or as raw ingredient for the manufacture of new products. While zero waste has to be the long-term goal, it is ultimately achievable and small changes can deliver immediate benefit, while new approaches and different ways of working will guarantee long-term sustainability.


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