Improvements in availability and quality of healthcare over the last 100 years has lead to vast improvements in quality of life for millions of people across the world. Many diseases that historically caused huge suffering, disability and death have now been tamed, diluted or even eradicated entirely.
Although this should not be questioned as a wholly positive achievement for the human race, there is certainly an environmental cost. Prolonged life expectancy and reduced maternal and infant mortality has caused a rapid increase in the world’s population putting a strain on resources and contributing to climate change.
Healthcare also produces a lot of waste. In the UK, the NHS creates 600,000 tonnes of it - around 1% of the national total. The World Health Organisation estimates that only 15% of this waste is hazardous and yet only 15% is recycled. The rest is incinerated or disposed of in landfill, polluting the air we breathe and the earth we rely on for food and water.
There is a solution that minimises the impact of this waste on our environment. On a large scale, incentivise healthcare providers to prioritise sustainability and ensure it is a key aspect of each Trust’s mission statement. Specifically in terms of waste management, this requires the creation of new waste streams which are less damaging to the environment and still protecting the public from potentially harmful refuse.
This video describes the steps that Barts Health (the home of GASP and the largest trust in the UK), has taken to reduce it’s footprint including some of their waste policies. They view sustainability as a fundamental issue in improving the health of the population they serve. In the same way that new sewer systems protected people’s health in the 19th century, poor waste management could damage our health in the 21st century.