Solar panels at UCLH

The UCLH Green Plan has seen investment of more than £2.5m. The plan includes:

  • installing low energy lights
  • switching to sustainable electricity and recycled paper
  • reducing patient journeys by 50 per cent
  • reducing the use of the most harmful anaesthetic gas by 90 per cent
  • encouraging staff to take part in climate action schemes.

We want to go beyond the NHS' aim of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040, and reach this target by 2031.

Single-use face masks are being given a new lease of life at UCLH, by being recycled into a range of plastic items.

As part of our commitment to net zero, we are trialling special recycling boxes that are now situated at the entrance to UCLH’s non-clinical offices in Euston Road for the exclusive disposal of used masks.

All masks placed in the special bins are taken away, heated and pressed. The plastic is then re-shaped into plastic boards that can be used in construction or to make new furniture. Previously at UCLH, all used single-use masks were incinerated, destroying the masks but also releasing harmful particles into the atmosphere, so this is a positive step forwards in UCLH’s fight against waste and pollution.

For infection control, the recycling points are currently only available in non-clinical areas. However the sustainability team are looking into ways of expanding the scheme.

Our electricity is now sourced completely from renewables; we will continue to install solar panels on more of our hospital buildings. Installing solar panels on just one site could generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 70 homes. We have invested over £2 million in low-energy LED lights this year across our hospitals: these use just a quarter of the energy of our previous lights, and last much longer. This is enabling UCLH to save more than 1,200 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Removing non-infectious clinical waste

Incinerating waste can release harmful pollutants into the air. Tiger waste bags have been brought in to reduce the amount of incinerated clinical waste. The tiger bags are for non-infectious waste such as sanitary pads, nappies and incontinence pads. Previously, this was disposed with clinical waste which is incinerated, but by separating the waste in this fashion we can decrease the amount of burnt waste. The sacks were introduced in January 2021, and this has already seen the amount of clinical waste cut by 20 per cent.

We are also aiming to reduce the amount of waste water we produce.

Our approach to reducing waste

Feedback from the Carbon Trust has provided a good framework for us to use our resources efficiently, as well as for cutting costs. We have revised our Waste Policy to measure our success against waste targets more accurately.

We now have a secure area to store surplus furniture and equipment for re-use across UCLH. We aim to challenge a ‘disposable culture’ by encouraging staff to donate unwanted furniture. Staff are encouraged to enquire what items are in the store before buying new ones to reduce waste, save money and keep our carbon footprint to a minimum.

We have identified an aid agency that needs medical equipment; this means we send less waste to landfill, reducing waste costs and making a contribution to those in need of medical aid overseas.

To help us reduce our waste, we:

  • diverted 100 per cent of our recycled waste from landfill
  • increased recycling facilities at our hospitals
  • introduced monthly waste audits to highlight areas for improvement
  • increased battery recycling facilities on all sites
  • adopted a kg waste/patient metric for measuring waste targets. 

We also are introducing safe, reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) at UCLH, including reusable masks and gowns.

UCLH’s service partner Mitie is supporting the vision to improve recycling by installing new equipment, changing their waste management contractor, increasing communication about correct waste streams and organising joint waste road shows.

This has caused better recycling rates, with a dramatic increase of mixed recycling from 38 per cent to 49 per cent in three months last year. Our general domestic waste over the same period has also decreased significantly and we have achieved ‘zero to landfill’ status in the last financial year. UCLH is well on course to hit its current recycling target of 80 per cent by 2025.

Previously, UCLH was using 7,000 boxes of paper a year; switching to recycled paper is saving 272 trees per year.

We're committed to ‘buying green’ and have made sustainability a formal part of our procurement decision making, with a 10% weighting in favour of suppliers who operate sustainably.

UCLH is cutting down the amount of plastic used at its hospitals, including encouraging patients and staff to replace the use of polystyrene cups with reusable ones.

Two wards are leading the way. Previously, the team at University College Hospital was ordering 2,000 polystyrene cups per month, but the order has now been replaced by 1,000 paper cups, with the ambition to further decrease this.

The Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU) at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery is also supporting the campaign with ‘Plastic-free Wednesdays’, when polystyrene cups and cutlery are made difficult to find, to encourage staff to locate reusable alternatives. The ward is now planning to almost completely eliminate the use of plastic cups and cutlery.

With support from Global Action Plan and Camden Council, UCLH is working to improve air quality by holding workshops with staff to promote green travel, such as using public transport and walking or cycling rather than driving.

Initiatives include our recent pedometer challenge which had a specific focus on promoting green and active travel amongst our staff. UCLH has also set up a bike user group to promote cycling. The group holds regular free bike check sessions and highlights safe cycling storage facilities.

UCLH will be regularly surveying staff to ensure more are cycling, walking, or using public transport and fewer are relying on private cars for their commute. UCLH has signed up to two programmes that reward staff for taking part in green initiatives.