Local NHS organisations take the lead as world marks Earth Day

Local NHS organisations take the lead as world marks Earth Day image

Home » Local NHS organisations take the lead as world marks Earth Day

As the world marks the annual Earth Day (Monday 22 April), NHS organisations in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes have shown the way forward by reducing the use of plastics across many of its activities.

Four years ago the NHS was the world’s first health service to commit to reaching carbon net zero, with an ambition to reach Net Zero in its direct emissions by 2040, and in emissions it influences by 2045.  Every NHS trust in England now has a Green Plan setting out how it will reduce its emissions and environmental impact.

Microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic resulting from the breakdown of larger plastics) have been found in the food chain, human breast milk and the placenta and there is growing evidence linking microplastics and the chemicals they contain to increased risk of a range of health conditions, including cancer, autism, diabetes, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.  The associated health risks are recognised as higher among children and women, and may continue to affect future generations.

The NHS is working hard both internally and with its supply chain to reduce single-use plastics by increasing the provision of reusable plastics, changing from plastic to more sustainable materials, and increasing the recycling of single-use items.  In October 2023 the NHS banned the use of single-use plastics in catering items such as cutlery, plates and polystyrene trays.  Not only does this reduce the carbon footprint of the NHS, but it also saves money.

Products such as disposable gloves and other protective clothing, intravenous solution bags and administration mechanisms, syringes, and nappies and other continence products account for over 60% of the plastics used globally in healthcare each year.  The 3Rs approach (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) is allowing the NHS to reduce the use of disposable gloves, which – whilst essential in some instances – can be overused in place of good hand hygiene.

Locally, Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s activity has prevented the manufacture of 18.2 tons of single-use products, and most of its operating theatres are using washable gowns and headwear.

Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has prevented 10.2 tons of single-use products from being incinerated at Bedford Hospital which has reduced emissions by as much as 58 tons CO­2 per year.  This approach will now be rolled out at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital site.

In primary care, local NHS staff now encourage patients to return pill packaging to high street pharmacies Superdrug and Boots for recycling, and to take unwanted inhaler materials back to the pharmacy for disposal.  Lower carbon alternatives are also now provided to patients who use an inhaler, along with advice on inhaler technique which has reduced waste.

Dr Tim Simmance, associate director of sustainability and growth at Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care Board, said:

“The NHS has set out bold plans to reduce its carbon footprint.  We are a big organisation and, together, we make up around 4% of the UK’s carbon emissions.  That means we have a major role to play in meeting our international obligations and our national ambitions to reduce the impact we have on the climate. “Whether it’s work to reduce the prevalence of single-use plastics, boosting greener travel, air quality improvements, or reducing our water consumption, we know that we need to make transform our infrastructure as well as smaller but significant changes to healthcare provision.  We owe it to future generations to do our bit.”

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