Hospitals could double recycling rates by source-segregating more

NHS trusts and other healthcare providers need to start source-segregating their waste better if they are maximise recycling outputs, a clinical waste expert has warned.

Historically the healthcare sector has been poor at recycling, with some NHS trusts estimated to be only achieving rates of 15-20% across their organisations. Procurement methods are thought to be partly responsible for this, with many hospitals managing their waste streams separately and not securing the best deal as a result.

But with the sector facing significant public funding cuts, many hospital waste managers are under pressure to find cost savings and consider it too expensive to implement systems that would improve recycling rates, such as an integrated waste management service.

It’s a false perception according to clinical waste specialist SRCL’s sales & marketing director, Brendan Fatchett. Speaking exclusively to edieWaste, he says that many trusts have traditionally separated out their waste streams because they believe it’s the most effective route.

He said: “We believe there are solutions out there that we can arrive at quite quickly, which don’t mean an increase in cost for recycling. Traditionally in [NHS trust] procurement, there is this ‘per tonne’ mindset – to reduce that price per tonne in disposal. But the waste hierarchy has shown that minimisation and recycling is cheaper in the long run.”

Fatchett is keen to emphasise that quick wins can be found around better source-segregation, particularly with clinical waste where a lot of the packaging from disposable items such as syringes gets thrown into the same bin, even though it’s not infectious.

He points out that many NHS trusts are very willing to recycle more, but need to overcome a conservatism and break out of old habits. “The NHS does not have a superb record in strategic procurement – it needs to maximise more benefit out of this. There has also been too much emphasis of having a waste manager that will solve all their problems.

“What they need are outside waste experts to come in and give them advice. With the best will in the world, the NHS doesn’t share its knowledge very effectively between different trusts.”

Fatchett claims that if hospitals outsourced more and adopted an integrated management service for all of their waste streams they would achieve significant results very quickly – in some cases, reaching recycling rates of 40% and beyond for total waste arisings.

SRCL is currently piloting some of its services such as source-segregation and staff training at Guy’s and St Thomas’ as part of a total waste management contract it has with the trust. Fatchett said good results were being achieved and that the company hoped to roll its integrated service offering out wider by the end of the year.

Maxine Perella

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