This article explores how improved waste management can help NHS trusts to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions in line with tough government targets
Hospitals are targeted on the number of patients they treat. However, the more people they treat, the more waste is produced. And, the more waste that is produced, the higher the cost of disposal and the greater the impact on carbon emissions.
To look at reducing the amount of waste produced, a hospital needs to carry out a full internal audit
This is the dilemma currently facing NHS acute trusts up and down the country, particularly in light of increased pressure from the government for all public sector organisations to cut CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.
“It’s almost impossible to reduce the amount of waste produced if hospitals are being targeted to do more, but they can certainly manage things better,” says Tony Mottram, commercial director at GPT Waste. “It’s all about segregation.”
GPT Waste works with a number of hospitals, auditing current practice and helping to draw up waste management plans that encourage improved sorting of the various waste streams and optimised disposal methods.
“You have to look at it like the clinical care hospitals offer,” he said. “You need to diagnose the problem; then work out the best way to treat it.
“Everyone within an organisation is responsible for managing waste effectively and that comes down to education.
“People need to understand what they have to do so the policy needs to be clear and simple and easy to follow.”
He said in some hospitals he had seen clinical waste bins – designed for medical waste that could pose a threat to public health unless disposed of properly through incineration - positioned at one side of a preparation area, and general waste and recycling bins at the other. Just putting these all together and clearly marking them could save huge amounts of money, and cut down on the amount of waste going to landfill.
It’s almost impossible to reduce the amount of waste produced if hospitals are being targeted to do more, but they can certainly manage things better
For example, one tonne of clinical waste costs £600 to dispose of, while general waste costs £150. There is also a potential 20% saving between general waste and dry recycling, so recycling as much as possible can be of huge benefit to larger organisations.
“The bottom-line savings are in the region of 10%-25%, depending on how inefficient current waste streams are,” said Mottram.
“The more inefficient they are, the better the potential savings.”
After improving waste sorting, trusts also need to look at their methods of disposal. One hospital GPT Waste worked with had seven separate skips for metallic waste. These were picked up by one company, combined, and then sorted at the depot. Pre-sorting them at the hospital site was therefore a waste of time and money and, in addition, the trust was charged for each skip removed. Another trust was pre-baling cardboard boxes when these were then broken down by the disposal company.
Working with private healthcare provide, Ramsay Healthcare, GPT Waste was able to take a massive amount of spend out of the front end following an audit. As a result the amount of clinical waste was significantly reduced and its recycling rate, previously around 30%, is now more than 90%.
“Different hospitals are doing different things,” said Mottram. “Some trusts have got it right and some are getting it wrong.
“It’s about people and processes and managing and monitoring the supply chain to match your strategy.”
A quick win
B&M Waste also works with a number of NHS and private healthcare providers, recently winning the Environmental Business of the Year Award at the Liverpool Echo Environment Awards for its work at Aintree University Hospital.
The bottom-line savings are in the region of 10%-25%, depending on how inefficient current waste streams are
Terry Milner, sales director, said: “To look at reducing the amount of waste produced, a hospital needs to carry out a full internal audit.
“It may be possible to reclassify some clinical waste as offensive waste, i.e. non-infectious, or in some cases as general waste or recyclables. This can lead to significant savings and will reduce the amount of waste that needs to go through costly incineration processes.”
Working closely with hospital management at Aintree, B&M assisted with the design of a new waste compound and a bespoke compactor. It also installed 450 bins, introduced a confidential document shredding service and a dedicated battery collection and recycling service. This was on top of comprehensive staff training in waste segregation.
As a result, the hospital recycled more than 900 tonnes of waste in 2013-14, compared to approximately 50 tonnes in 2010.
B&M contract manager, Rose Warnock, said: “Over the last 12 months B&M Waste has helped more than 13 NHS trusts to implement effective waste management solutions –driving significant improvements in efficiency and dramatically reducing the amount of waste being sent to landfill. Our ethos focuses on making cultural changes within trusts and working with clients in collaboration to drive a positive change to the environment.”