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It was reported in April that the NHS had used more than half a billion disposable cups over the past five years. The figures, obtained by the Press Association, showed that NHS trusts in England purchased around 600 million disposable cups since 2013, equating to more than 300,000 per day with cups used for hot and cold drinks, as well as for dispensing medicine.
The news emerged following a pledge by the UK government to take action against disposable cups as part of an ongoing fight against plastic waste. April also saw the government’s chief medical advisor Dame Sally Davies release her annual report which stated the NHS creates 590,000 tonnes of waste a year, more than the entire municipal waste from Cyprus and Luxembourg.
As the world’s fifth largest employer, Davies stated the importance of the NHS cutting its pollutant footprint: “Everybody has a role to play in cutting pollution but the NHS has more than a million staff, accounts for one in 20 vehicles on the road and is a big user of single-use disposable plastics.”
Any healthcare professional will tell you the importance of single-use plastic to provide a sanitary and hygienic option for patients, making eliminating them unlikely until there’s a suitable replacement. However, there is often more to be done when it comes to the disposal of these products. For example, oil-based plastics, commonly used for drinks cups, are recyclable and would simply require sorting and disposing of in the right place.
Many organisations are taking the step of completely banning the use of single-use plastic cups in favour of china. The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust revealed that their patients have access to china cups and glassware in a bid to reduce plastic waste volumes. Additionally, York Hospital uses crockery for drinks in its wards, claiming it also improves the patient experience.
Media reports, such as that detailing the NHS’ plastic cup use, coupled with the government’s commitment to reduce our dependence on single-use plastics, are working as a catalyst for change within the NHS and provide even more environmentally-friendly alternatives and an increase in recycling and collection schemes nationwide.
For the latest news and insights relating to environmental issues impacting the NHS and wider healthcare sector, stay tuned to the MCM Medical blog and social media channels.