Towards plastic-free healthcare in Europe

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Plastics have become indispensable in the healthcare sector and they are facilitating the work of healthcare professionals all over the world. The low price of plastic and its relative ease of manufacturing have led, however, to an overuse of plastic products and packaging, often in situations where they are not needed. Plastics are also rarely recycled, especially plastic-made medical materials - this is concerning because plastic, from production, to use and disposal, can be harmful to both human health and the environment.

Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe is conducting the project Towards plastic-free healthcare in Europe, with funding from the Flotilla Foundation. Through this project, HCWH Europe aims to transform the use of plastic in hospitals and to assist them in their transition to a circular economy model.

Key objectives

The long-term objective of this project is to reduce the negative impact that plastics from the European healthcare sector have on both the human health and the environment. This project aims to transform current practices so that plastic use is reduced within the European healthcare sector and to support the sector in transitioning to a circular economy model.

Project steps 

As facilitator of the project, HCWH Europe will work together with eight European healthcare providers to assess the plastic use in their facilities and assist them in raising awareness amongst their staff. Through the project we will stimulate innovative problem solving for single-use plastics (medical and non-medical) and unsustainable disposal methods, particularly through mobilising demand for sustainable plastic and packaging alternatives within European markets. 

This pilot project lasts one year and is divided into three pillars of action: research, education, and innovation. HCWH Europe will establish and support Plastics Action teams within each collaborator’s facility, comprising staff from a cross section of departments and positions who will support the audits, lead on awareness raising, and motivate action. 

1. Research - Audits to identify the type of plastic products used and the extent of their use.

The research phase involves an audit of plastic used in each facility; recommendations on how to address plastic consumption will be tailored for each collaborator. Based on the data collected through the audits, HCWH Europe will create a Plastics in European Healthcare toolkit, aimed at helping healthcare professionals conduct a similar plastic audit by themselves. The toolkit will also provide them with support in implementing changes to decrease their plastic use and to transition towards a circular model.

2. Education Plastic Action teams raise awareness amongst stakeholders on the impacts of plastic use in and actions to transform it, inspiring replication.

HCWH Europe will support the Plastics Action teams to develop communication campaigns and raise awareness on the impacts of current plastic use and waste within their facility and prompt remedial action. Through these campaigns, healthcare professionals will be informed about the harmful effects of plastics on the environment and human health and will be given recommendations on ways in which they can reduce, reuse, recycle, replace, and/or repair plastics in both the healthcare system and their daily lives.

HCWH Europe will support the project collaborators to share the findings and recommendations from their audits as well as action plans amongst a broad range of stakeholders through a series of webinars in the latter half of the project. 

3. Innovation Plastics Working Group enable procurement that results in the widespread reduction or replacement of plastic products/packaging.

For the last phase of the project, a Plastics Working Group, consisting of healthcare professionals and experts from across Europe, will be created as a platform to share information, ideas, and problem-solving on the issue of plastics in healthcare. This working group will form part of a Market Transformation Network - created to connect procurement teams and facilitate the design of sustainable procurement criteria (applicable across healthcare systems) within targeted product groups, including plastics.

The goal of the working group is to enable procurement that results in the widespread reduction or replacement of plastic products and packaging across the healthcare sector in Europe. As a result, it is hoped that procurement of more sustainable and less harmful alternatives will be increasingly favoured by healthcare professionals.

Resources


HCWH Europe gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the European Commission (EC)’s LIFE programme and The Flotilla Foundation. HCWH Europe is solely responsible for the content of this project and related materials. The views expressed do not reflect the official views of the EC or The Flotilla Foundation.