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The coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on healthcare waste management. Throughout a difficult year working on the frontline, Bywaters continues to offer a dynamic approach centred around sustainability.
At 8 pm on March 26th, rapturous applause erupted across the UK, as nationwide people showed their support for key workers. The understanding of the immense pressure on our public services was palpable, as the country demonstrated their support for the workers keeping the country running.
Over the past 12 months, the coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives more than anyone thought possible. Whilst city centers remain desolate, hospital wards and GP’s offices have been an everchanging operation. Working alongside the NHS across the capital, we have adapted to the unpredictable nature of the demand. This dynamic approach adopted by the healthcare team helped handle fluctuations, supporting life-saving operations throughout London.
A dynamic approach to national capacity issues
In the past year, the annual waste tonnage produced by the NHS nationwide has doubled. Without the infrastructure in the UK to deal with this level of demand, our teams quickly implemented contingency plans, ensuring the trusts could continue with clinical activities. We worked closely with our supply chain to implement swift recoveries and temporary safe onsite storage, counteracting the national issue, which caused some trusts to store clinical waste in toilets.
The upsurge in waste was led by the growth in disposable PPE usage. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 5.6 billion items of PPE have been delivered to the health and social care system in England, up from 2.43 billion in 2019. Through this period, multiple 770l bins of infectious waste were exchanged within COVID wards every hour. The onsite teams had to remain flexible, working 24/7 to manage the workload required. Our staff stepped up to the task and worked amazingly, knowing they were handling the waste from this deadly new virus.
“Working at Guy’s and St Thomas’ during the pandemic has been challenging for all involved, but it’s really satisfying to know that we are an integral part of London’s response to Covid-19. We are really proud that we work so closely with the NHS and are able to ‘do our bit’. The team have stepped up to the plate amazingly – clinical waste has increased significantly, but we have managed to deal with this safely. By making sure our service runs smoothly, we have helped keep the hospitals operational.” Dan Goodhind – Bywaters Account Manager at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Trust
Sustainability remains key
With attention focused on fighting the virus, it would be easy to lose sight of other issues threatening the planet. Around 13 million tonnes of plastic flows into oceans each year, according to a UN Environment estimate in 2018. With the vast majority of PPE single use, there is a fear that before too long ‘there could be more masks than jellyfish’ in the ocean if waste is not managed effectively.
Our clients recognise the importance of continuing to implement the most sustainable waste management practices. Working with the NHS, it has been fundamental to deliver innovative projects aimed at improving sustainability. This year, correct segregation was essential, not only to reduce contamination but to relieve the pressure on the clinical waste sector. Initiatives have been employed to reduce incorrectly labelled infectious waste, whilst introducing a non-hazardous offensive waste stream, where safe to do so.
Looking forward, build back better
The push to reduce single use items remains one of the biggest waste challenges facing the healthcare sector. In 2018, a survey conducted in four Mayo Clinic locations found that single-use plastics made up at least 20% of medical waste generated in US hospitals. Tackling the issue head on, we continue to explore reusable options to once single use issues. The roll-out of reusable sharps bins has been given the go ahead at several locations. These bins can be used up to 600 times more than the disposable sharps bin, which gets incinerated along with the contents after use.
As the country focuses on ‘building back better’, we are proud to have been awarded several key NHS contracts, cementing the partnership established through the years. In February, we mobilised total waste management at Whittington Hospital, supporting the contract extensions agreed with Great Ormand Street and Brentwood Hospitals.
Thank you key workers
This year has highlighted key workers across the UK. From supermarket check-out clerks to doctors and nurses, the UK’s response to the pandemic has been all encompassing. We are proud to work alongside the NHS, ensuring operational efficiency and sustainable improvements, even in the most demanding of circumstances.
The team has worked tirelessly over the past 12 months, adapting to the pandemic’s everchanging demands. As such, we would like to thank all NHS staff, all key workers, and all our staff for continuing to provide a service to the NHS every day.