June 29, 2023

What is the NHS Clinical Waste Strategy and What You Need to Know

The highly anticipated NHS Clinical Waste Strategy was published in March and introduces NHS providers in England to a bold new direction of travel - one that is squarely aimed at meeting NHS net-zero targets and savings of around £11 million.  

In this blog, James Cardwell-Moore, Senior Director, outlines the aims and intentions of the strategy and what a 30% reduction in the amount of carbon emissions generated from NHS clinical waste segregation means for providers.

The vision

Clinical waste refers to any waste produced because of healthcare activities that may pose a risk to infection or other hazards. It includes items such as used needles and other sharps, pharmaceutical waste including unused medications and other potentially hazardous or infectious material.

Managing medical waste in the NHS is governed by a combination of legislation, regulations and guidance including Controlled Waste Regulations and the Department of Health’s Technical Memorandums – the latest revision (HTM 07-01) also published in March this year. 

What the NHS Clinical Waste Strategy sets-out is a vision for the future: to reduce the 156,000 tonnes of clinical waste produced each year in England by reducing, managing and disposing of waste in a safe, cost efficient and sustainable way.

Key Themes & Targets

NHS England expects clinical waste to grow at a rate of 3% every year over the foreseeable future. That’s a sharp trajectory considering the figure doesn’t include the ongoing challenges that many NHS providers are facing in the aftermath of COVID-19, alongside the growing need to demonstrate sustainability in a modern health system.  

The new strategy sets the direction and pace that providers need to take on their journey to net zero. To do this, the strategy groups necessary actions around six key themes: productivity, workforce, commercial, infrastructure, compliance and sustainability - all focused on helping providers to comply with relevant regulations and guidance on clinical waste management, while reducing the impact on our planet. 

Specifically, the actions are geared towards reducing the amount of NHS waste generated, improving segregation, providing relevant training and increasing the use of sustainable technologies. 

The NHS has an overall target to achieve net-zero carbon for its direct emissions by 2040.

Targets in the strategy include;

  • 30% reduction in the carbon emissions generated by NHS clinical waste 

  • 50% reduction in the carbon emissions associated with all clinical waste management by 2026 – and 80% reduction by 2028

  • 20/20/60 segregation target for clinical waste by 2026 -  20% incineration, 20% infectious waste and 60% offensive.

Six focus areas help providers to achieve these targets.  Alongside sustainability, these include improving the use of data, investing in a skilled and diverse waste management workforce, compliance in waste segregation and infrastructure resilience – collaborating with suppliers to help improve the efficiency of waste management.

What should be done now, and planned-in for future delivery?

In a foreword to the strategy Simon Carben, Director of Estates and Head of Profession at NHS England, said: “As one of the largest producers of waste in the country…I encourage all NHS providers to embrace and adopt this strategy and embed the steps from the action plan as part of their daily waste management practices.”

The rolling 10-year implementation roadmap prioritises the necessary outcomes and objectives, starting in 2022/23 and ending in 2030/31. The strategic roadmap is a good starting point to help understand what areas should be done now and what can be planned-in for future delivery. 

In year one for example, all providers must have dedicated waste managers, as well as arrangements for the management of offensive waste.  The timeline then moves on to improving the accuracy of clinical waste reporting, reductions in carbon emissions across waste management and 15% lower average net cost of clinical waste management per tonne by 2030.

So now that the strategy is published, providers will be starting to consider what initiatives should be brought forward and which supplier collaborations should be instigated sooner to be better placed to meet the strategy’s timeline. Early preparation for major activities is key - and we already know that many providers will already be implementing some of the requirements.

​​How Stericycle can support NHS providers along the journey

Working with a partner that has regulatory expertise like Stericycle, is one of the best ways that an NHS provider can comply with relevant areas of the strategy, navigate its complexity and help remove the risk of non-compliance – even with brand new rules in place. 

Our NHS waste management solutions provide full legislative compliance. They guarantee in-house, fully licensed waste treatment, minimise risks associated with mobilisation and deliver quality of service in a cost effective way.  

The 20/20/60 segregation target

Stericycle’s range of services helps make the correct, secure management and segregation of healthcare waste straight forward.

Waste segregation is one of the most important starting points in effective and sustainable clinical waste management. And in England and Wales, the mixing of waste streams is prohibited by law.

By segregating waste correctly, healthcare providers can reduce clinical waste and through their waste management partner, access sustainable solutions and treatment options that help safeguard our planet. Read more about why it’s so important in our blog here.

No single treatment option is optimal for all waste streams - each have very different risk profiles and regulations. It is important to identify and stream medical waste correctly in order to avoid harm to people, the environment and avoid the risk of fines. 

The  20% incineration, 20% infectious and 60% offensive segregation targets for NHS clinical waste should be implemented by 2026.

To facilitate the strategy’s 20/20/60 target, we offer an end-to-end management service that makes the correct segregation and treatment of healthcare waste simple – using the colour-coded segregation system for containers, customised labelling and public-area awareness resources.

Waste Hierarchy

Stericycle’s compliant treatment options and service solutions provide sustainable ways to re-use, recycle and recover clinical waste.

At Stericycle, we work with our customers to assess their clinical environments and prioritise areas where improvements are needed, then provide an end-to-end clinical waste management service based on specific needs.

This may include re-useable sharps containers and compliant containers, through to the careful removal and responsible treatment of waste to help increase the amount of waste that is recycled or reused while reducing the need for incineration and diverting almost all waste away from landfill - with a direct, long-lasting impact for our environment.

Waste segregation training

Stericycle offers tailored waste management services with the educational tools and resources that help your organisation better comply with waste segregation regulations.

The strategy states that, ‘All members of the NHS workforce, both clinical and non-clinical, have individual responsibility for managing waste sustainably’.

We work with our customers to understand their needs and provide relevant, compliant and cost effective support to all staff, helping them better understand the requirements of new regulations and guidelines – including the NHS Clinical Waste Strategy. 

This includes help to implement robust policies across different departments and CPD accredited e-learning as part of an ongoing programme of support. The focused training helps increase awareness of the risks and penalties of incorrect waste management - and can lead to long term benefits for your organisation and your workforce.

Carbon Reporting

Stericycle’s carbon data reporting supports green plan and central reporting – demonstrating all efforts to support the NHS’ response to climate change.

The NHS is on a journey that targets net zero for direct carbon emissions by 2040 and net zero for indirect carbon emissions by 2045. Targets are set for 50% reduction in the carbon emissions produced from waste management by 2026, and an 80% reduction by 2028. 

Stericycle’s regular service customers benefit from tailored carbon footprint reporting that shows a customer’s proportion of Stericycle’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions from managing clinical waste, which in turn helps them to estimate Scope 3 emissions under the category ‘waste generated in operations’ - these are the indirect emissions from waste management services provided to customers, that they are indirectly responsible for within their value chain.  

The data can help support organisations in their reporting to central authorities, as well as to highlight a strong position in sustainable healthcare.

We're here to help

We recognise the challenges that healthcare providers face to achieve the outcomes detailed in the new strategy. But it’s vital that all healthcare providers dispose their clinical waste in a safe, efficient, sustainable and compliant way. 

Although the strategy provides organisation with plenty to think about, many NHS providers will find that the planned outcomes complement or advance what they are already achieving or working towards. 

By working collaboratively with Stericycle, NHS organisations can help remain compliant with updated regulations and be well positioned to achieve the new strategy’s targets when it comes to their waste management strategy.

Contact us today to find out how we can help your trust meet the targets and requirements of the new NHS Clinical Waste Strategy.