The Shift to Disposables
We know that healthcare waste is an increasingly important problem for our sector to tackle, but where is all this rubbish coming from? Has it always been there, or has something changed?
As medical science has developed, finding solutions to many problems, it has also uncovered more to be solved. One of those has been the spread of infection – particularly the spread of infection in hospitals. MRSA and C. difficile received a lot of publicity in the early 2000s not only because of the potentially deadly consequences of infection but also because of the way they were spreading round hospitals, the very places we expect to recover from illnesses, not catch new ones.
The government responded by punishing healthcare providers with fines for new cases of these infections and Trusts have therefore looked for any possible way to ensure they are not spread.
One way to prevent infection and contain disease is to employ single use devices and PPE or (personal protective equipment) during interactions with patients and then discarding them when finished. It has had the desired effect in reducing cross-infection but creates mountains of ‘hazardous’ waste which is usually incinerated.
Trusts who have attempted to create sustainable waste streams, like recycling paper and plastic packaging, have often fallen foul of waste disposal legislation due to hazardous waste (like used needles or bloody swabs) being found in bags of recycling and big fines are levied for such violations.
This mixture of challenging infections to contain and strict waste regulations have lead to the production of a mountain of single use devices / items discarded as waste requiring incineration or landfill.