In the UK, 23-29 September 2019 is Recycle Week. Sustainability is firmly on the national agenda and environmental concerns are at the forefront of people’s minds thanks to Sir David Attenborough and the Our Planet programmes as well as the Climate Strikes initiated by activist Greta Thunberg.
This year’s theme for Recycle Week will be: ‘Recycling. It’s in our own hands.’ However, the public is also looking to organisations in the public and private sector to lead the way in helping to improve sustainability.
At Stericycle we are continuously putting effort and investment into recycling technologies to address the challenge of sustainably managing healthcare waste. Most of our received waste inputs and process waste outputs are either re-used, recovered or recycled.
Reducing plastic consumption is a worldwide focus and the clinical waste industry should be no exception. Incinerating plastic generates carbon emissions and is also inefficient for the running of incinerators. Plastics take up capacity which could be used for waste that must be incinerated and can also have a detrimental impact on plant performance, if they form too large a proportion of the total waste mix. We recognise that single-use plastics are essential for some healthcare applications, but there are many examples where this is not the case and more sustainable alternatives should be considered. Stericycle has developed a Bio Systems service which sees sharps placed in reusable containers instead of single-use plastic containers, is currently in place at 22 Trusts across England.
For each Bio Systems container used, up to 600 single-use containers are prevented from being incinerated. This is equivalent to running two small cars for a year (based on a typical 1200 bed NHS trust) and is instrumental in the reduction of greenhouse gases. In recognition of its use of technology and equipment to minimise the impact of waste disposal on the environment, the Bio Systems Sharps Management service won the Best use of design and technology at this year’s Let’s Recycle Awards.
Where we can we use alternative treatment, heating waste to disinfect it, as opposed to incineration. As part of the alternative treatment process the disinfected waste is shredded into flock. Flock can be used as a fuel source and is sent to energy-from-waste plants or cement kilns. Since the beginning of 2014, 99 per cent of the flock created from our clinical waste treatment plants has been used in this way.
When we do have to incinerate waste, we recycle the by-products of the process as much as possible. These by-products include ash, lime and steam. Ash is collected by approved contractors for various other processes and waste lime is collected for reuse by third parties.
Stericycle has chosen to invest, over many years, in energy-from-waste incinerators which create a closed loop whereby waste produced by the NHS is used to heat NHS buildings. Steam produced by Stericycle’s on-site incinerator is also used to power the state-of-the-art robotic wash-line of our Bio Systems sharps management service.
At Stericycle we are passionate about minimising the effects of waste on the environment and are committed to finding and using innovative ways to achieve this now and in the future.