NHS bought 196m single use plastics

NHS hospital trusts have been urged to follow the lead of suppliers and retailers to “dramatically cut the amount of single-use plastics in hospitals”. 

NHS England's chief executive Simon Stevens called on hospital trusts with in-house catering to support moves to reduce the environmental impact of the health service as part its Long Term Plan.

Procurement data from NHS England revealed it had purchased 196m single-use plastic items last year, including 163m cups, 16m pieces of cutlery, 15m straws and 2m stirrers.

By cutting plastic use in catering by half, almost 100m items could be prevented from ending up in landfills or polluting the oceans, the health service said.

Stevens urged trusts to join retailers and suppliers such as W H Smith, Marks & Spencer, Boots and NHS Supply Chain, who have agreed to slash the amount of plastics used in catering operations.  

From April 2020, the retailers will no longer purchase plastic straws or stirrers. Plates, cutlery, and cups will be phased out over the following year. 

Stevens said: “It’s right that the NHS and our suppliers should join the national campaign to turn the tide on plastic waste. Doing so will be good for our environment, for patients and for taxpayers who fund our NHS.

“We’re pleased that as a first step, major retailers operating in hospitals have committed to cut their plastics, starting with straws and stirrers, cutlery, plates and cups.”

The nationwide efforts will follow on from individual schemes including increased use of glass cups instead of plastic and installing water fountains, which have cut plastic use by hundreds of tonnes and freed up thousands of pounds to reinvest in local services, NHS England said. 

Separately, Cargill has reduced the amount of plastic used in its vegetable oil bottles and containers by more than 2.5m lbs (1.1m kg) globally. The plastic reductions have removed almost 2,900 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) from the atmosphere.

Cargill has invested in new bottling technology, retrofitting existing equipment and improving processes at its crush and refinery facilities to reduce its environmental impact. The firm is also incorporating recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in its packaging. 

Tai Ullmann, global sustainability manager for Cargill’s edible oils business, said: “Plastic packaging is a growing concern for many of our customers and consumers because of plastic waste pollution and the environmental impact of producing plastic.

“Using less plastic in the packaging used for our vegetable oils helps customers who have set goals around plastic reduction or recyclability, as well as reducing GHGs.”

However, a report by commodity market analysts S&P Global Platts said businesses’ true commitment to sustainability will be tested in the face of “unfavourable economics”.

It found the cost of recycled plastic had overtaken the cost of virgin plastics for the first time, at an extra $72 per tonne. This is due to the growth in demand for recycled plastics and increased virgin plastics production as a result of the US shale gas boom. 

S&P said: “Demand for recycled plastics over the longer term is expected to grow in part due to EU policy initiatives to increase the recyclability and recycled content of packaging.”

In the UK government’s budget for 2018 a tax was announced on the production and import of plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content from April 2022.

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