£20k savings on clinical waste disposal

Northampton General Hospital claims savings of around £20,000 on clinical waste disposal through their initiatives to drive enhanced source segregation and exclude inapproriate items into clinical waste containers.

“We’ve asked staff to think about what they put in the yellow sacks because it costs up to four times as much to dispose of those and we’ve saved about £20,000.

 “The hospital’s sustainability programme aims to reduce waste, increase the efficiency of buildings and minimise energy and water consumption.

 “In recognition of its efforts, NGH has been given a gold National Recycling Stars award, but hospital bosses hope the scheme will save it £250,000 over the next two years.


Such efforts are rightly rewarded, and tthe savings make a huge contribution both to environmental impact and to the balance sheet.

Unfortunately, several issues are studiously overlooed when reporting such schemes. How much did it take to operate, and will the savings be sustained without the constant, and costly, input of wste managers and their team?  This is not the first, and probably will not be the last such scheme operating in thsi way, reported through the trade and popular press or approached as an acdemic study and published in a scientific journal.

What happens is that a relatively short term burst of intense input topward improved waste management yields immediate savings that are multplied up to obtain the headline figure for annualised savings, but when the input is removed savings fade away and cannot be sustained. We are not told how long this initiative has run – though the report does refer to savings accrued ‘in the past year’ – and whether the savings are real or simply annualised. If the figure is accurate, what has been the cost of delivery? And even more imortantly, was the saving bolstered by wholesale down-regulation of wastes?

The other problem is that rarely if ever does anyone look at the flipside of these ‘waste managemnt drives’. How many incidents of waste segregation errors were there? So much effort is directed toward exclusion of innappropriate items from clinical waste containers that many items which should be disposed into this waste stream find their way into another, and wholly inappropraite, waste container. Of course, that is cheaper, but dangerous and contrary to the regulations. A fine or compensation claim would wipe away these notional savings at a stroke. Did anyone look for this? Did the rate of these segregation errors (clinical waste → black bag) increase?

All credit to Northampton for their work, and congratulations on their award. However, without much more detail the success may in fact be rather shallow and unsustainable, and the savings more apparent than real.

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