Times are hard and we have all got to do more with less.
NHS trusts across the country are having to find millions of pounds worth of efficiency savings. Waste and resource management professionals are in a great position to help.
As a waste manager in a large organisation whose priority, rightly so, is patient care, convincing people of the need for efficient use and disposal of resources can be challenging. You have got to pick your battles and share/celebrate your successes in the hope they spread.
We are getting there. In the past three years, Newcastle trust has racked up more than £800,000 of waste-related savings, mainly achieved through engaging with like-minded members of staff who are willing to go that bit further to challenge the status quo.
One of the simplest projects we implemented was based around the principle that you cannot manage what you do not measure. Getting granular data on waste composition and volume is very difficult in large buildings, where waste tends to be combined in intermediate stores before it goes outside and is further combined into large compactors. This makes it difficult to engage with individual wards and departments on their performance and the effects of their efforts to change.
Stage one involved getting baseline data: through ‘green champions’ we simply asked them to log the number of large bags or boxes of each waste type that they produce during a fortnight – and there are a lot in acute healthcare. Using averages, I could then tell them the cost and CO2e impact of their activities.
Stage two involved a detailed waste audit of the ward. Opportunities were identified and an improvement plan was agreed.
Stage three was a re-run of stage one but done at least two months afterwards, to allow the improvement actions to bed in. The results of the pre- and post-waste logs were compared and the results communicated to all staff. The individual projects always resulted in a financial saving of at least 30%, and one got as high as 60%. Carbon savings were similar but were dependent on the ward’s speciality.
The data was specific and easily understood by ward staff, and the results showed them the tangible and meaningful benefits of their actions. The simplicity of the project meant that it could be replicated quite easily. To date we have carried out more than 20 and, if we managed to roll this out across the trust, we would be looking at recurring annual savings of around £360,000!
Resource efficiency and shifting to a circular economy make sense. To me it is common sense, but even to non-environmentalists it makes business sense. To quote the Government’s Prevention is Better than Cure waste guidance: “Improved efficiency in the way resources such as energy, water and raw materials are used, along with reducing waste, can help save businesses money.”
Saving money frees up valuable funds for patient care and helps to make our cherished NHS more sustainable. We should not shirk away from these challenges. As my mum used to tell me: “Shy bairns get nowt!”
James Dixon is waste manager and sustainability lead at The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust