Plastic is a particularly crucial topic for islands like Cyprus: there are limited resources and space for waste management, the effects of ocean plastic pollution are very visible and present, and waste reduction should be a priority.
As part of the project, Towards plastic-free healthcare in Europe, funded by the Flotilla Foundation and the BeMed Foundation, HCWH Europe is transforming plastic use in hospitals by supporting healthcare facilities' transition to a circular economy model and reducing unnecessary plastic use.
The project has been divided into three pillars of action - research, capacity building, and scaling up - aimed at reducing plastic use in healthcare and promoting sustainable alternatives.
The excessive use of plastic in healthcare is a growing concern for healthcare professionals. According to Stylianos Kakoullis, Associate Professor of Medicine at the CARE Medical Institute in Cyprus: “single-use plastic materials have been used extensively in healthcare with minimal consideration to the environmental after-effects they have. This loops back and has significant short and long-term health effects on my patients.”
Measuring plastic waste in healthcare
The CARE Medical Institute is a primary care facility in Nicosia, Cyprus. It was created by four healthcare scientists through dedication and love for their work. While initially, they were focussing on offering services to patients with chronic heart and lung diseases, they are now covering all specialities related to primary healthcare.
Together with the volunteers at the institute, we conducted a waste audit in two wards - the ICU and the general medical ward (which collectively have 120 beds), to determine the types and amount of plastic usage in their facility. The audit revealed that 27% of the 125.83 kg of waste produced was plastic.
The most commonly found plastic items were:
- Medical packaging: 21.4%
- Gloves: 18.6%
- Tubing and accessories: 15.2%
- Foodware: 10.1%
- Medical bags: 7.9%
- Water bottles: 7%
The results highlight the need to reduce unnecessary packaging in healthcare as the largest proportion of plastic waste. Accounting for nearly 20% of the plastic waste found in the audit, gloves are often unnecessarily overused and can lead to increased infection risks. Hospitals, such as Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in the UK, have reduced their glove use significantly without any increase in contamination, leading to savings of over €119,000.
Plastic foodware and plastic water bottles combined represent a similar amount as gloves, nearly 20% of all plastic analysed. Reusable alternatives, water filters, and promoting tap water can all help to significantly reduce plastic water bottle consumption. There are also many safer and more sustainable alternatives to single-use foodware items - learn more in our publication Sustainable food contact materials in the European healthcare sector.
Stylianos said that the plastic waste audit was an eye-opener for the quantity of plastic waste produced at the CARE Medical Institute and that it highlighted the confusion around different disposal waste streams. He also recognised the challenges they faced in organising the audit, particularly in recruiting individuals to assist with waste sorting.
Circular Healthcare training
Following their waste audits, representatives of the CARE Institute attended HCWH Europe’s Circular Healthcare training to identify next steps. In this session we provided our members with training on the health and environmental impacts of plastics, including toxic chemicals found in healthcare settings, plastic reduction strategies, and sustainable procurement in healthcare.
The CARE Medical Institute is now taking steps to address waste production and plastic use in healthcare. The healthcare system will
- Perform more waste audits to identify practices throughout the island, together with other healthcare facilities in the region.
- Improve waste sorting.
- Educate and guide healthcare professionals on the use of reusable materials and better waste segregation practices.
- Provide healthcare professionals with more reusable alternatives.
"The potential of reusable and more sustainable solutions to plastics, including more prudent use of plastics, starts from recognising and understanding the problem, then educating key players in healthcare and helping them to act."
- Stylianos Kakoullis, Associate Professor of Medicine - CARE Medical Institute