The beleaguered NHS wastes money with a passion but is nonetheless underfunded and chronically short of resources. Healthcare waste management reflects this, with much waste of material and cash resources worsening an already difficult situation.
Though failures in the further segregation of clinical wastes is repeatedly cited as an example of poor disposal practice, this is rarely so. Justified on the periodic observation of the odd newspaper or drinks can in a clinical waste container, the focus of course segregation particularly from clinical areas cannot be an effective answer – staff have too much to do; space and time are limited and the infrastructure is not available to collect and managed these wastes for onward disposal. Critically, there exists the risk that segregation errors which are said to be all too common when seeking to reduce clinical waste volumes will result in contamination of recyclates with more hazardous waste items.
Invariably, the “must segregate” lobby consistently report the results of look-and-see audits of orange and yellow clinical waste containers, getting over-excited about the occasional sweetie wrapper, but choose never to audit the content off containers for supposedly non-hazardous general and recyclable wastes.
Post-processing recovery of material and energy resources is a much preferable solution but currently receives no support, and some positive obstruction, from individuals within the Environmental Agency who would still prefer these wastes to go to incineration or landfill. For them, the environmentally friendlier middle ground is simply ignored.
Elsewhere in the healthcare environment, source segregation and material recycling is not routinely practices and sorely absent, though the green shoots of recycling are now being seen.
Worthing, Southlands, and St Richard’s hospitals are going green this year with the installation of dozens of new recycling units. These sponsored units are intended to capture various waste fractions from general wastes in public areas yet are predicted to reduce clinical waste volumes also though this is perhaps an example of hope over reality.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of this development which, as so often is the case, seems grossly over-hyped.
Sponsorship may be the way to go, since there is no reason to reject placement of retail units and advertisements in public areas if these raise funds to support wider recycling. However, this alone is unlikely to change the hearts and minds of those who must recycle general wastes to a standard that is substantially better than at present.