2 July 2021

What is the NHS doing about sustainability?


by Lucy Clarkson

With climate change awareness increasing, it’s hardly surprising that sustainability has become a common topic of discussion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Climate campaigners David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg have between them made the world more aware of the devastating environmental impact of carbon emissions and the urgent race to save our planet from further destruction. 

In April 2021, the UK set the world’s most ambitious climate change target into law. This sixth Carbon Budget is on target to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. If successful, this policy will limit the volume of greenhouse gases emitted over a five-year period from 2033 to 2037. This would then take the UK over three-quarters of the way to reaching net-zero by 2050.  

While the government is setting ambitious targets for climate change, what is the NHS doing? The 4th June marked NHS Sustainability Day, where targets were outlined to reduce the frontline service’s carbon footprint. Some of these initiatives include switching to a greener transportation system, introducing sustainable nutrition, and powering facilities to net-zero via alternative and clean energy sources. The NHS has now become the first healthcare system in the world to implement binding targets to deliver net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.   

Despite this positive progression, there is still an exceptionally large black cloud hanging over the NHS – its continued use of disposable, single-use, plastic PPE that is having a detrimental effect on the environment. 

Sustainability Partnerships is a purpose-driven organisation looking to ‘drive and accelerate the sustainability agenda within our NHS by highlighting innovative products and processes’. Their aim is to root out wastefulness and replace it with innovation. It is hosting a live talk on the 29th July called Removing Plastics from the NHS, which is seemingly very relevant. It is no secret that due to the Covid-19 pandemic; the use of single-use plastic PPE has risen to an alarming level. The standard single-use facemasks contain plastic which takes over 450 years to break down, and the NHS throw away approximately 2 million of these masks a day. Bearing in mind that statistic doesn’t include other PPE such as gloves and aprons, its safe to say this is an immense problem for the environment. 

The use of plastic masks is starting to make an irreversible and hazardous mark on the environment. 53 million masks are ending up in landfill every day in the UK, and it has been calculated that over the span of a year, the amount of non-recyclable plastic mask waste is the equivalent to five and a half Eiffel Towers. For the average person, a reusable fabric mask is obviously the desired alternative to single-use plastic, however, what are NHS workers supposed to wear if they cannot wear a fabric mask?  

Henosis Masks are the world’s first 100% compostable, single-use facemask, made completely from plant materials and if the NHS were to use them, the positive impact on the environment would be huge.  They can be put into a hot composter to create fantastic organic compost or placed with food waste where they will be safely broken down within the space of just 12 weeks.  An alternative like Henosis Masks seems the only option for the NHS if they want to stick to their sustainability goals, and it is a necessary change before environmental destruction goes past the point of no return.  

Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash