The NHS will slash the use of plastic in hospital canteens

NHS vows to cut back on the millions of single-use plastic cups, straws and cutlery used in hospitals as part of drive to reduce waste

  • On-site retailers such as Boots and Greggs have vowed to cut ‘avoidable plastics’
  • NHS England have urged their 228 NHS trusts to sign-up to the voluntary pledge 
  • The drive is part of the NHS’ campaign to reduce ocean and landfill pollution 

Hospital canteens will slash their amount of plastic as part of an NHS ecological drive to reduce waste being dumped in oceans and landfill. 

Health chiefs have vowed to scrap more than 100million single-use plastics by phasing the material out from its catering operation and on-site stores.

But signing up to the pledge is voluntary and environmental campaign groups – while hailing the positive step – are urging more action. 

Boots, Greggs and M&S are among the retailers that have swung behind the campaign and pledged to remove ‘avoidable plastic’ from their hospital outlets.

Straws and stirrers will be axed from their branches April 2020, with cutlery plates and cups phased out over the following 12 months.

Hospital canteens will slash their amount of plastic as part of an NHS ecological drive to reduce waste being dumped in oceans and landfill (Springfields Medical Centre pictured)

Straws and stirrers will be axed from retailer’s branches April 2020, with cutlery plates and cups phased out over the following 12 months

NHS England has asked the country’s 228 NHS trusts – which govern hospitals – to match the retailers’ pledge.

But these local bodies are not forced to sign-up to this national plastic-cutting campaign. 

Yet many have already been ramping up efforts to expunge their plastic footprint by stocking glass bottles and fitting water fountains.

Last year the NHS bought at least 163million plastic cups, 16million pieces of plastic cutlery, 15 million straws and two million plastic stirrers. 

NHS England said if the health service can cut its use of catering plastic in half, it could mean more than 100million fewer items each year being used. 


Boots (left) Greggs (right) and M&S are among the retailers that have swung behind the campaign and pledged to remove ‘avoidable plastic’ from their hospital outlets.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: ‘It’s right that the NHS and our suppliers should join the national campaign to turn the tide on plastic waste. 

‘Doing so will be good for our environment, for patients and for taxpayers who fund our NHS. 

How much waste ends up in landfill?

Every day, millions of us drop a plastic bottle or cardboard container into the recycling bin – and we feel we’re doing our bit for the environment.

But what we may not realise is that most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead.

Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled, with half going to landfill, half go to waste.

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead

Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.

This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable. 

Every year, the UK throws away 2.5 billion ‘paper’ cups, amounting to 5,000 cups a minute. 

Shockingly, less than 0.4 per cent of these are recycled.

Most cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic. 

This has previously posed issues with recycling but can now be removed  . 

Five specialist recycling plants in the UK have the capacity to recycle all the cups used on our high-streets.  

Ensuring the paper cups end up in these plants and are not discarded incorrectly is one of the biggest issues facing the recycling of the paper vessels. 

‘We’re pleased that as a first step, major retailers operating in hospitals have committed to cut their plastics, starting with straws and stirrers, cutlery, plates and cups.’    

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: ‘Across the NHS, nurses, midwives and other frontline staff are providing great leadership on environmental issues and championing sustainability where they work. 

‘Support from local NHS organisations to sign the pledge and cut use of catering plastics will need all NHS staff to take action in their own areas and encourage their employers to go further faster.’ 

NHS England said many parts of the NHS are already tackling single-use plastic. 

The Yorkshire Ambulance Service is saving around four tonnes of plastic waste each year after a campaign to remove it from the staff canteen. 

The trust replaced plastic milk bottles with glass, plastic cutlery with wood and plastic drinks bottles with cans. 

It also introduced a water refill point. Meanwhile, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has removed more than half a million single-use plastic items from its canteens, including 227,000 pieces of cutlery and 231,180 cups. 

Julian Kirby, Friends of the Earth plastics campaigner, said:’It’s great to see the NHS committing to reducing pointless plastic. 

‘The key is for throw-away items like plastic cups and stirrers to be replaced by reusable items, and for things like water fountains to be much more common.

‘But we shouldn’t be relying on voluntary schemes and cash-strapped hospitals to get rid of the pointless plastic in our public spaces. 

‘We urgently need a comprehensive plan from government and support to make it happen.’ 

Helen Bird, of sustainability charity Wrap (the Waste and Resources Action Programme), said: ‘It’s positive to see the NHS taking action to turn the tide on plastic waste, removing plastic items where they do not make sense for the environment, and looking for alternatives to materials which are not recyclable, like expanded polystyrene cups. 

‘It sends a strong message to the public and suppliers to the NHS; our throwaway culture will become a thing of the past.’

WHAT DOES DEEP-SEA DEBRIS DATABASE REVEAL ABOUT OCEAN PLASTIC POLLUTION?

Plastic pollution is a scourge that is ravaging the surface of our planet. Now, the polluting polymer is sinking down to the bottom of the ocean. 

The deepest part of the ocean is found in the Mariana Trench, located in the western Pacific Ocean, to the east of the Mariana Islands. It stretches down nearly 36,100 feet (11,000 metres) below the surface.

One plastic bag was found 35,754 feet (10,898 metres) below the surface in this region, the deepest known piece of human-made pollution in the world. This single-use piece of plastic was found deeper than 33 Eiffel towers, laid tip to base, would reach.

Whilst the plastic pollution is rapidly sinking, it is also spreading further into the middle of the oceans. A piece of plastic was found over 620 miles (1,000 km) from the nearest coast – that’s further than the length of France.

The Global Oceanographic Data Center (Godac) of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (Jamstec) launched for public use in March 2017. 

In this database, there is the data from 5,010 different dives. From all of these different dives, 3,425 man-made debris items were counted. 

More than 33 per cent of the debris was macro-plastic followed by metal (26 per cent), rubber (1.8 per cent), fishing gear (1.7 per cent), glass (1.4 per cent), cloth/paper/lumber (1.3 per cent), and ‘other’ anthropogenic items (35 per cent).

It was also discovered that of all the waste found, 89 per cent of it was designed for single-use purposes. This is defined as plastic bags, bottles and packages. The deeper the study looked, the greater the amount of plastic they found. 

Of all man-made items found deeper than 20,000 feet (6,000 metres), the ratios increased to 52 per cent for macro-plastic and 92 per cent for single-use plastic.

The direct damage this caused to the ecosystem and environment is clear to see as deep-sea organisms were observed in the 17 per cent of plastic debris images taken by the study.

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