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Sustainability and single use

George I’ons discusses the impact of the single use on the environment and highlights some potential solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of disposable medical devices.

As the largest employer in Europe and one of the largest employers in the world, the National Health Service is a vast organisation which requires considerable volumes of goods and services to function. Consequently, the NHS is responsible for 4% of England’s total carbon footprint,1 with a significantly higher percentage of plastic waste compared to other industries. The complexity of infection control means that only about 5% of this plastic waste is being recovered.2 In 2020, for instance, the need to urgently control COVID-19 infection rates led to increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE), which tends to be made of plastic material and is intended for single-use only. By July, health and social care services in England were already set to surpass PPE distribution in the whole of 2019.3 This unavoidable increase in plastic waste, exacerbated by the use of single-use face masks among the wider population, has raised greater awareness of the need to improve waste management in the medical industry. 

The traditional method of medical device disposal is incineration, which must increasingly become a last resort due to the environmental damage caused by the process. However, it must be noted that, where incineration cannot be avoided, there are strict European regulations limiting clinical waste emissions,4 and the UK will now need to set its own limits. Additionally, there are innovative solutions available to contain impact to the environment, such as sophisticated filtering systems which can help to prevent toxic fumes from polluting the atmosphere. 

Maintaining safety standards

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Upcoming Events

AfPP Annual Conference 2022

University of York
8-11 September 2022

Infection 360: What's trending in infection prevention & control

Edgbaston Stadium, Birmingham
27-28 September 2022

IP2022 IS COMING TO BOURNEMOUTH IN OCTOBER 2022

Bournemouth
17-19 October 2022

UKHCA Conference: Listen Up

Pendulum Hotel and Manchester Conference Centre, Manchester
3rd November 2022

MEDICA 2022

Dusseldorf Germany
14th November - 17th November

Future Surgery 2022

ExCel, London
15th - 16th November 2022

Access the latest issue of Clinical Services Journal on your mobile device together with an archive of back issues.

Download the FREE Clinical Services Journal app from your device's App store

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