East Surrey Hospital wins national sustainability award for reducing plastic use
23 January 2023
By Hayley Carmichael
Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (SASH) has won a national Sustainability Partnership award for its procurement of reusable sharps bins, eliminating nearly 15 tonnes of plastic from the supply chain each year and reducing its CO2 levels.
Delivering greener healthcare
SASH won the Procurement Award for the process used to introduce reusable sharps bins, streamlining its supply chain processes and reducing waste.
As with many NHS trusts, procurement and supply chain activities are responsible for the majority of CO2 emissions. By switching to reusable sharps containers, SASH was able to deliver an 86% reduction in CO2 within this process by eliminating the need to manufacture new containers for each use.
The implementation of Sharpsmart bins at SASH has removed the burden associated with managing the materials, and ordering and distributing 36,000 single-use sharps containers to 90 separate locations across the trust. The new process is completely streamlined through the NHS Supply Chain and managed without the need for ad-hoc ordering, complicated stock management or incineration of plastic packaging.
The project was initiated by the health and safety manager at the time, who identified a safer method for sharps disposal which would also reduce the Trust’s carbon emissions. The trial was supported by the head of procurement, operating theatre co-ordinators and the facilities team.
The product was initially trialled in theatres, the emergency department, and two wards for a six-month period. During this time, the resilience of a single-use system was challenged by the dramatic increase in admissions to the emergency department because of COVID-19. During the autumn of 2021, driver shortages put extreme pressure on the supply of single-use items, but the cleaning and returns of Sharpsmart containers was unaffected.
Since April 2022, the trust has appointed a dedicated waste manager who oversees this process and has ensured that the system works for all departments.
Change for the better
Lee Edwards, head of procurement said:
“Anything that is a change to what you’re used to can be a bit uncomfortable, but we have great working relationships across multiple departments at SASH, so when staff understood the reasoning and process, it was easy to bring them along on the journey and get it across the line. Michael Brown-John, waste manager, really drove the implementation. People are now looking at other changes that would deliver on all the same benefits!”
The design of the old single-use bins meant that staff were required to push sharps waste straight into the bins. The new reusable bins have a tray with a lever that drops the waste into the bin, creating a safer method for sharps disposal whilst also reducing the single-use plastic consumption across the hospital.
SASH has embarked on an ambitious Green Plan as part of its contribution to the NHS’ carbon reduction ambitions to achieve Net Zero Carbon by 2040. It works in partnership with Care Without Carbon on a comprehensive range of initiatives to become more sustainable. Its nurses’ uniforms are made from recycled plastic bottles, it has 100% renewable electricity and planted 150 trees last year.
More than one improvement with just one switch
Paul Simpson, chief finance officer and director of estates and facilities said:
“The project to introduce multi-use sharps containers orchestrated by our head of procurement, Lee Edwards, who worked with estates and facilities and health and safety, stops us just throwing things away, is much safer for our clinical staff and saves money.
“We identified the need to retire old products initially because of safety (reducing injuries from handling sharps) and then realised how non-environmentally friendly our disposal method was, because both the containers and their contents were incinerated after one use. Since establishing new Sharpsmart containers, our sharps injuries have reduced and in addition to not just throwing things away, the team has prevented thousands of single-use containers from being manufactured and helped us to reduce our carbon emissions.”