A lot of what is happening in the environmental and recycling industries is happening quietly and in stages. Improvements are rarely spectacular and so are rarely highlighted by the media. Nonetheless, progress is being made in the area of environmental sustainability which can generate significant gains, both for the environment and the tax-payer.
Waste generated by the medical services is one example. It is based on a substantial, extensive and costly use of single-use material and packaging which affects the environment. The medical services generate many different types of waste, from household waste to residual products which may include drug residues, infectious matter, chemicals and other hazardous substances.
To reduce the amount of waste generated, most hospitals work to prevent the generation of waste and to use rational systems for sorting and processing waste.
In its environmental programme for 2006-2012, Region Skåne, the Skåne County Council, with its 33,000 employees and nine hospitals, has adopted a target of reducing the amount of waste and increasing recycling by 15 percent by 2008. To achieve this target, the county council has adopted a waste minimisation plan, and has commissioned an analysis of which product groups and types of waste has the greatest impact on climate and generates the highest costs. The result showed that waste not classified as hazardous still ended up in hazardous waste bags. This generated increased costs, required more transports and larger quantities of waste than necessary was being incinerated. In addition, larger quantities of packaging were required for hazardous waste, which, in turn, contains more material than standard packaging.
Another problem was that waste bags for household waste were often collected and dumped before they were full. The scientists demonstrated the link between waste packaging and the impact on the climate: using more waste bags than necessary increases carbon dioxide emissions.
To rectify the problems, Region Skåne is now using an alternative bag system developed by the Paxxo company in Malmö.”Our bags are made from polythene and are thinner than traditional waste bags. They are only half as thick, but the strength has been retained, largely as a result of our production process”, says Carl-Hugo Péters, CEO of Paxxo. He adds that the trend for thinner but stronger materials is set to continue.
One of the benefits of the system is that the users themselves can decide how large each bag should be. Longopac is sold throughout the world to industrial operations, hospitals and purification plants. Since it is available in different colours, it can be used for sorting-at-source. A biologically-degradable version of the bag can be composted.
The climate survey commissioned by Region Skåne was based on a life-cycle perspective. A Longopac bag was compared with a traditional bag, and the results showed that the Longopac bag generated 11 times less carbon dioxide than the traditional bag. The reason was that the environmentally-sustainable bags were filled on collection, and that less polythene was used to make the thinner bag.
This article was first published in Advantage Environment printed in February 2008