NHS trust waste manager calls for radical change

The NHS must reduce its reliance on incineration and focus on better prevention techniques if it wants to get a tighter grip on waste management, a leading acute trust manager has said.

Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust waste officer Brian Wood has called for better networking between hospital trusts to share best practice in waste reduction, especially at a time when budgets for staff training and education are being cut.

“Some trusts are not providing waste training now due to cost pressures,” Wood told fellow waste managers at a NHS sustainability event hosted by MITIE in London yesterday (April 18).

“Education and training [on waste management] should be a priority, it should be included as part of induction training and as part of refresher and bespoke training if possible,” he maintained.

Mick Fanning, an associate consultant with WSP, echoed this view. He said each NHS trust should appoint a dedicated waste manager to help eliminate poor practice such as contaminating residual waste bags with infectious materials like bloods and used sharps.

Part of the problem, he said, was that clinical staff tended to find waste terminology confusing. “Is something infectious waste or offensive waste? Current guidance specifies a recommended colour coding system that is sometimes deemed to be too demanding,” he argued.

Fanning added that required source-segregation for certain materials was especially difficult for organisations like ambulance trusts and community nursing groups in terms of practicalities.

Meanwhile Wood warned that skimping on training could have a severe impact on the NHS’s drive toward greater resource efficiency. He said a change in mindset was urgently required around how the organisation deals with its waste.

“Future waste management in the NHS must focus on prevention. The waste hierarchy is key – if we prevent waste in the first place we will have less to manage.”

While admitting that this was “difficult to do in a healthcare setting”, Wood felt that more consideration was needed around alternative treatment options. “One tonne of incinerated waste produces three tonnes of CO2 – we must look at reducing incinerated waste.”

Maintaining that “carbon pounds” were just as important as sterling pounds, Wood urged trust waste managers to re-examine their collection and disposal arrangements, as well as procurement methods, to reduce carbon impact.

“I believe we should dispose of waste locally where possible. At my trust, we are looking to introduce food waste composting – there is potential to make this a cost-neutral process in London,” he added.

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie