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Figures reveal throwaway cup use within NHS

PUBLISHED: 11:18 11 April 2018 | UPDATED: 17:13 11 April 2018

A PA investigation has revealed the extent of throwaway cup use within the NHS. Picture: BEN BIRCHALL/PA WIRE

A PA investigation has revealed the extent of throwaway cup use within the NHS. Picture: BEN BIRCHALL/PA WIRE

More than 10 million disposable cups were purchased by three NHS trusts in East Anglia over the last five years.

Colchester Hospital has purchased more than five million throwaway cups since 2013. Picture: LUCY TAYLORColchester Hospital has purchased more than five million throwaway cups since 2013. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

The figures have been uncovered by the Press Association by sending Freedom of Information requests to trusts across England.

Between 2013/14 and 2017/18, Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust bought 5,341,800 throwaway cups, and West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust purchased 2,815,440.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust obtained 2,594,000.

Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust said it did not hold the information requested.

Nationally, the health service has bought more than 600 million disposable cups over the five-year period – the equivalent of more than 334,000 per day.

The news comes amid rising concern over the environmental impact of single-use throwaway items.

West Suffolk Hospital is taking action to reduce its disposable cup usage. Picture: GREGG BROWNWest Suffolk Hospital is taking action to reduce its disposable cup usage. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Disposable cups are purchased across the NHS for drinks and dispensing medicines.

While some can be readily recycled others, such as polystyrene, are harder to recycle.

In some settings there will be clinical reasons behind the use of single use cups, for example avoiding the use of glass in some mental health wards.

Earlier this year England’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, called on the NHS - as one of the world’s largest employers - to cut its pollutant footprint.

Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “We all know we’re using far too much throwaway plastic, but these huge figures demonstrate just how out of control our relationship with single-use plastic has become.

“In the last five years the health service has used half a billion disposable cups - they can’t all be captured and recycled, so it’s time for the Government to step in and help suppliers find viable solutions.”

Jan Ingle, head of communications at Colchester, said the trust’s numbers were high because it did all its catering in-house and disposable cups were used for water fountains and hot drink machines.

She added: “Everything is recycled and we have a really strong commitment to sustainability and we are looking at all the alternatives to using plastic.”

Jan Bloomfield, director of workforce and communications at West Suffolk, said: “Small measures can make a difference - we don’t use polystyrene cups, which are the most difficult to recycle, but use plastic and cardboard instead. And on many of our wards, re-useable plastic cups are used that are sterilised and safe to use again.

“We’ve already taken big steps to reduce the number of plastic cups we use, recently introducing trust water bottles for every member of staff. Not only does this encourage our staff to keep hydrated, but also reduces the need for using disposable cups. We’re exploring whether we can also offer reusable tea and coffee cups, so that we can reduce the number of cardboard cups we use too.”

She added the trust was reviewing its domestic waste contract to find more recycling opportunities.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust declined to comment.

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