Change agents at work: Economies of scale

11th October 2012

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James Dixon reveals how consolidating waste contracts at his NHS trust has saved more than £300,000 in 12 months and helped to treble recycling rates

When I joined Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in April 2010, the sheer size of its waste operation was daunting. As the trust’s waste manager, I am solely responsible for the waste produced by six large hospital sites and 20 community sites, which employ 13,000 staff and treat 1.3 million patients each year.

Currently, the trust generates more than 4,000 tonnes of clinical and non-clinical waste annually, and it is my job to ensure we are disposing of it in accordance with legislation, as well as to identify opportunities to reduce waste and cut costs.

Soon after starting the job, it was apparent that the first thing I needed to tackle was our contracts for waste disposal. There were a lot of long-standing contracts across the different sites with a variety of contractors, each operating in their own way. I was having to spend most of my time managing invoices and queries.

So we decided to bring together all the contracts, and put out a tender for the whole trust with new environmental requirements, including: increased recycling rates; zero waste to landfill; and accurate monthly data on the weight of waste collected and the amount of carbon created by the different waste disposal routes.

This last requirement produced a number of blank looks from contractors, but I persisted and SITA, which won the contract, provides me with this information each month. It means I know that we are saving more than 1,000 tonnes of carbon each year by sending our refuse to energy-from-waste plants rather than to landfill.

The next steps

The new contract started in January 2011 and it freed me up to start managing our waste better. Now armed with accurate weight data, I was able to focus my attention on increasing recycling in poor-performing sites. It became obvious, for example, that some people were putting all of their paper into confidential waste sacks because they there was no other route for recycling.

This is, of course, considerably more expensive than simply recycling the paper, so after the dust settled with the new waste contract, and it was clear that we were saving money, I was able to secure £30,000 of funding on a spend-to-save business case to install 200 mixed recycling bins in our biggest hospital, the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI).

There is at least one recycling bin for each of the RVI’s wards and departments and I began rolling them out across the hospital last March. They have been a real success in engaging everyone with segregating their waste and I am now installing them in our next biggest site.

One of the things I most enjoy about my job is meeting the different teams and raising awareness of the benefits of recycling. When I visit a ward, I log its waste and hold a session with the team, explaining the differences in cost between, for example, the orange clinical waste bags (around £1 to dispose of) and the black bags (which are only 20p).

If staff do not understand the costs they will throw everything into the orange bin if it happens to be the one closest to them, but when they are aware of that extra 80p per bag, they start to segregate correctly.

With the NHS having to find savings across every department, when I say that a team could save £5,000 by better segregating its waste, ears prick up!

Boosting baling

I’m proud to say that we have been able to more than treble our recycling rates from 9% to over 30% in just 12 months, and we are now sending at least 700 tonnes of waste to be recycled each year. The new bins at the RVI contributed to this, but the biggest boost has been in the amount of cardboard we recycle, which has increased 270%. This has been thanks to a combination of new equipment, additional training and more detailed information from SITA.

When I first joined the trust I discovered that some cardboard at RVI was being thrown away with the general waste, this was in part because the porters didn’t like to use the cardboard baler. With the change of contracts we got new equipment that the porters prefer, and I also asked SITA to send me photographs of our waste compactors being emptied to ensure that no cardboard was being thrown away.

These photos are a great way to keep an eye on things and also give me the opportunity to praise our teams when I know they are recycling all our cardboard. The results are that we now recycle 190 tonnes of cardboard a year, which is worth around £19,000 to the trust in rebates and savings.

Overall, since the introduction of the new waste contract, the trust has been able to save more than £300,000 though diverting waste from landfill and improving our recycling rates. Furthermore, it has helped provide me with the data I need to demonstrate to my senior managers the value of recycling, as well as really get staff onside with segregating their waste.

James Dixon, AIEMA, is waste manager at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


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