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Nurses could save NHS millions with better waste recycling


Nurses could help save money and the environment by simply putting rubbish in the right bin, according to new guidance on waste management published by the Royal College of Nursing.

Tons of waste from hospitals and other healthcare settings are needlessly sent off to be burnt or disinfected each year, because it has been wrongly classified as “hazardous”, reveals the guide.

It highlights confusion over different types of waste and calls for better training for all healthcare staff to help them classify waste correctly.

Nurses and healthcare assistants have a tendency to be “over-cautious”, treating rubbish as potentially infectious or dangerous “just in case”, notes the document.

Other issues include a lack of different bins to help people separate waste correctly, or a general “lack of confidence” in knowing what goes where.

“There is evidence to suggest that a large quantity of healthcare waste is classified as infectious when it doesn’t actually present a risk of infection,” said Rose Gallagher, the RCN’s nursing adviser for infection control.

“It should instead be classed as offensive waste meaning it is non-hazardous. This improvement in classification could lead to cost savings and a reduction in carbon emissions.”

Rose Gallagher

Rose Gallagher

An RCN report from 2011 estimated the NHS could save £5.5m a year if 20% of hazardous waste was re-classified as offensive waste, which may be unpleasant but does not pose health risks.

The new guidance features examples of good practice, such as a flowchart used by nurses at Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust to help them decide whether something is infectious or offensive waste.

It said waste management should form a key part of staff induction and called on all organisations to appoint a dedicated “waste manager”.

“A large quantity of healthcare waste is classified as infectious when it doesn’t actually present a risk of infection”

Rose Gallagher

For example, Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Foundation Trust increased its recycling rate from 1% to 60% in two years after appointing a full-time, dedicated waste manager.

The guidance also covers the disposal of waste by community nurses while visiting patients. Some nurses take rubbish away with them but the guidance said ideally it should be stored safely at the patient’s home and then collected by someone else, despite the fact this costs more.

Doing so helped reduce the risk of contamination of sterile dressings and equipment also stored in a nurse’s car, and also meant nurses would not have to dispose of waste in isolated healthcare settings late at night.


Readers' comments (13)

  • try recycling at the gp premises where I work. We are a large building housing several practices and other community services so imagine the waste generated.There is no provision for the recycling of the mountains of leaflets, posters, magazines etc etc we receive daily and are quickly out of date. We have been told it is because the management company who own the privately funded premises won't pay the local council for facilities to recycle. It's not for the want of trying believe me!! Money is the magic word!

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  • There is no recycling in the trust hospital where I work. I personally feel that it is up to management to promote recycling not nurses.

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  • michael stone

    Wandering off-topic, I once read a nursing textbook dating ca 1935.

    So most medicine was private (that was before the NHS) and one of the pieces of advice, was 'being alert to the doctor's costs'.

    It suggested 'salvaging, washing and reusing the parts of bandages that were not too-badly soiled'.

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  • michael stone | 24-Apr-2014 2:02 pm

    It's national stalking awareness day today, why don't you stop your incessant stalking of nurses and nursing on this board!

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  • Anonymous | 24-Apr-2014 8:08 pm

    gosh, did I write that comment or was it somebody else? It is an echo of my sentiments which have also been expressed here on more than one occasion.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 24-Apr-2014 8:08 pm

    I am not 'stalking' anyone - and I object to the suggestion that I am.

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  • Anonymous | 24-Apr-2014 9:38 pm

    Absolutely: this is probably the only forum in which nurses can express their thoughts, feelings and ideas with one another without fear of being reported to management. The person in question is not a nurse or a health professional or indeed a patient/service user - he's a person in need of a hobby who spends too much time posting complete and utter sh!te that is neither interesting nor amusing.

    I've tried to ignore his posts: indeed I wish there were an option to filter-out posts by certain individuals as that would ease my suffering. I now spend much less time on this board due to 'trolling' - if that's the correct term - by this individual.

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  • michael stone | 25-Apr-2014 9:38 am

    you have in the past although you did try to apologise for it.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 25-Apr-2014 12:15 pm

    What I apologised for, was the [inadvertent] offence I apparently caused by sending some unsolicited e-mails: I didn't, and still don't, see that as stalking.

    However, I'm a bit 'blunt' socially.

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  • michael stone

    I was very near to being logged-off by the computer system when I wrote the previous comment: instead of 'blunt' 'blunt and fairly inept' would be closer.

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