Monday 22 April 2024 is Earth Day  

Monday 22 April 2024 is Earth Day   image

Home » Monday 22 April 2024 is Earth Day  

Plastic surrounds us everywhere, from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat and the toiletries and cleaning products in our homes.   

Only 9% of plastic is recycled globally, with 71% ending up in landfill or nature and the rest being incinerated or mismanaged. 

Plastics originate mainly from fossil fuels and the production, use and disposal of plastic is expected to account for 19% of the global greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.  

Greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide and Methane are causing Climate Change which has a detrimental effect on health creating more demand for healthcare services.  

The NHS has declared the Climate Emergency a Health Emergency, and set a target to be Net Zero for Carbon Emissions by 2045; reducing use of plastics is one of the main areas of work. 

The NHS is a huge consumer of plastics especially single use items such as gloves, cannulas, PPE, syringes, continence pads and IV systems. 1.4% of NHS Supply Chain emissions are due to single use plastic alone. 

  • What are the links between Plastics and Health?

    What are the links between Plastics and Health?

    Micro plastics (tiny pieces of plastic resulting from the breakdown of larger plastics) have now 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: 

    • Cancer 
    • ADHD 
    • Autism 
    • Diabetes 
    • Inflammatory Bowel Disease 
    • Miscarriage 
    • Male infertility 
    • Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke 

    The associated health risks are recognised as higher for children and women and may impact on generations to come. 

    Increased health risks lead to increased demand for healthcare services which are already struggling to provide safe and good quality services.  Will the NHS be able to cope? 

    The NHS needs to respond to the health emergency that climate change brings, which will need to be embedded into everything we do now and in the future. 

  • What is the NHS doing to reduce its Plastic use?

    What is the NHS doing to reduce its Plastic use?


    The NHS is working hard both internally and with its supply chain to reduce the use of single use plastics by increasing use of reusable plastics, changing from plastic to more sustainable materials and increasing recycling of single use items. 

    In October 2023 the use of single use plastics in catering consumables such as cutlery, plates and polystyrene trays was banned in the NHS. 

    Not only does this reduce the carbon footprint of the NHS but could also save it thousands of pounds each year. 

    The following 6 product categories account for over 60% of the total plastics used in healthcare globally: 


    Single use Plastics are an area where the “3Rs” of sustainability can be used effectively in healthcare, with reducing use having the fastest effect: 


  • Gloves


      Before COVID-19, the NHS used 1.4 BILLION gloves each year, this rose by 200% during the pandemic

    Although essential in healthcare, non-sterile gloves are often used unnecessarily and hand hygiene is neglected, increasing the risk of cross-contamination. Addressing the overuse of gloves is a great opportunity for reducing plastic consumption and waste. 


    NHSE Launched the “Gloves off” campaign in 2018 and the RCN reinvigorated the campaign in 2022. 

    Great Ormond Street saved “3 Tyrannasaurus Rexes” worth of plastics (21 Tonnes) in 10 months by reducing use of non-sterile gloves by 34% (3.7 million gloves), also saving £90k. 

  • What’s happening across BLMK?

    What’s happening across BLMK?

    Milton keynes University Hospital

    Use of SharpSmart has prevented 18.2 tonnes of single use products from being manufactured which has reduced emissions equivalent to a London Bus travelling 42,000 miles


    Most specialities now using washable theatre gowns and hats


    Committed to implementing “Gloves off” and reducing use of non-sterile gloves


    Committed to stop procurement of single use plastic items in catering services


    Bedfordshire Hospitals


    Use of SharpSmart has prevented 10.2 tonnes of single use products from being incinerated at Bedford Hospital which has reduced emissions by 58 tonnes CO2 per year. This will now be rolled out at the L&D Site


    Committed to stop procurement of single use plastic items in catering services


    Committed to implementing “Gloves off” and reducing use of non-sterile gloves


    BLMK Primary Care Teams

    Encouraging patients to return pill packaging to Superdrug and Boots for recycling


    Encouraging patients to return inhalers to pharmacies for disposal


    Carrying out reviews of inhaler prescribing to lower carbon alternatives and improving patient inhaler technique to reduce the amount of prescribing.

  • What’s happening elsewhere?

    What’s happening elsewhere?

    Replacing liquid medicines with pills - Teaching children to safely swallow tablets rather than liquid medicines reduces the use of single use plastic syringes, bottles and lids
    (remember to consult your health professional beforehand)

    Cannulas - Charing Cross Hospital saved 19 tonnes of plastics and £95k by reducing unnecessary cannulation of patients in A&E by 25%

    Sharps Bins - Surrey and Sussex  Healthcare NHS Trust saved 15 Tonnes of plastics by switching to reusable Sharps Bins

    Suture Kits - Royal Sussex County Hospital is expecting to save 2,240 single use suture kits from incineration each by replacing them with reusable instruments with a lifespan of 15 years

    Vaginal Speculums- Royal Sussex County Hospital is also increasing the use of reusable metal speculums in its Sexual Health clinics

    Blood samples – Black Country Pathology Services is expecting to save 44.6 tonnes of plastic each year and improve efficiency of the service by changing from Plastic bags for blood samples to a tube racking system which has worked well in a Primary Care trial

  • But what can I do?

    But what can I do?

    Have a look around you - at home, out and about and in the office - how many single use plastic items can you see?

    • What are you drinking from?
    • What are you wearing?
    • What are you eating and how?
    • How are your toiletries and makeup packaged?
    • How are you cleaning your house?
    • Which feminine products do you use?
    • What type of nappies do you use?

    It’s only when you start looking that you see: plastic is everywhere.  And you can do something about it.

    To find out how you can reduce your use of plastics, click here

    Are you on social media?

    Take the Earthday Plastic Detox challenge and join the EARTHDAY.ORG #PlasticDetox community!

    Want to learn more about Climate Change, Plastics and Healthcare, click here

View all news

Latest news and highlights


24 May 2024

National Walking Month and better weather prompt calls to get out and…

Senior local doctors have urged residents to walk more, as a new survey released as part of National Walking Month (May 2024) reveals that over…


23 May 2024

Children’s vaccination catch-ups to be offered at half-term clinics in Central Bedfordshire

Families in Central Bedfordshire with children under five years of age whose vaccinations are not up to date have been reminded that the borough will…


20 May 2024

BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend – Travel disruption

We anticipate increased demand to our services at the L&D in light of BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend taking place in Stockwood Park from Friday 24 through to Sunday 26…


17 May 2024

GPs use new health data sources to identify patients at risk of…

GPs in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes are taking proactive steps to prevent disease, thanks to new ways of working which can help clinicians identify people who are at risk…

Case Study

16 May 2024

Case study: Oliver McGowan Training on Learning Disability and Autism

The Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training on Learning Disability and Autism is named after Oliver McGowan, whose death shone a light on the need for health and social care staff to…


15 May 2024

“Move more for mental health” call in Mental Health Awareness Week

Senior local doctors are encouraging residents quite literally to take steps to improve their wellbeing during Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May), to match the theme for this year’s campaign:…