3 Ways Hospitals Can Reduce Plastic Waste

Is Single-Use Plastic a Problem in Healthcare?

25% of the waste generated by hospitals is plastic, according to Practice Greenhealth[1]. Single-use plastic is detrimental to the environment, but it’s also inexpensive, durable and hygienic which is what makes it so attractive to patient care. Hospitals face a challenge when it comes to sustainability as they need to find alternatives which offer the same benefits for infection control.

Single-use plastics pose a threat to the environment, and with only 7% of plastic waste from healthcare being recycled in the UK[2], reducing plastic waste within healthcare is essential to becoming net-zero.

Plastic-wrapped or consumable dependent medical equipment is used in healthcare because it provides a high standard of hygiene for patients. However, there are many other alternatives that are better for the environment whilst still providing optimal patient care.

3 Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste in Hospitals

Reducing plastic medical waste is a significant undertaking as it requires a holistic approach and changes across the board, to achieve a net-zero health system that will positively benefit the environment.

Responsible Procurement

The Royal College of Physicians outlines 12 principles to reduce waste[3]. Within their guidance they highlight the importance of selecting products for use in the healthcare setting that provide positive environmental impact. In fact, where possible they recommend environmentally friendly products should be used over more harmful alternatives.
Adopting an approach which incorporates sustainability into the procurement process, where environmental impacts are considered up front, will help healthcare systems to reduce unnecessary single-use plastic.

One area where plastic waste could be easily reduced, is thermometry. Traditional contact thermometers require a plastic probe cover for every temperature reading. A 900-bed hospital takes around 2-3 million temperature readings per year, that’s 2-3 million plastic probe covers for disposal.

TRITEMP™ is a medical grade non-contact thermometer which provides a more sustainable option as it requires no consumables – cutting out approximately 300 million single-use plastic probes in 2021.

Recycle Where Possible

Recycling in a hospital setting can help hospitals reduce plastic waste. But this can only be done for medical plastics that are not contaminated, so reducing the use of plastics where possible is a more viable option.

The NHS creates 133,000 tonnes of plastic annually with only 5% of it being recyclable[4].

Advocate And Collaborate

Healthcare systems need dedicated leadership, incentives and direction to help reduce waste. In 2008 the UK Climate Change Act legislated for an 80% reduction in CO₂ emissions by 2050 and formed the Sustainable Development Unit – a national body charged with reducing CO₂ emissions in healthcare. By 2017 there was an 11% reduction in CO₂ emissions[5], despite an 18% increase in UK healthcare related activity.

A holistic approach to reducing waste must be adopted by the healthcare industry if we are to make strides towards reversing the effects of climate change and positively impact our planet.


Why do contact thermometers use so much single-use plastic?

To limit infection spread, the probes on contact thermometers are clothed by a single-use plastic cover. This probe cover is replaced each time it is used, so vast amounts are used globally, given the sheer volume of temperatures taken in healthcare.

Why reduce single-use plastics in thermometry?

Single-use plastics used in thermometry have many drawbacks, firstly they harm the environment and increase Co2 emissions, but they are also an infection control risk, with potential for spreading infection from patient to patient.

Does the TRITEMP™ thermometer require single-use plastics? 

No, the TRITEMP™ thermometer is as a non-contact thermometer and doesn’t require any single-use plastic probe covers as it never makes contact with a patient.


  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/environment-and-conservation/2019/10/can-medical-care-exist-without-plastic
  2. https://returntowellness.co.uk/2019/06/13/is-the-nhs-wasting-money/
  3. https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/less-waste-more-health-health-professionals-guide-reducing-waste
  4. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/12/08/the-plastic-pandemic-could-the-environmental-impact-of-the-nhs-response-to-covid-19-be-reduced/#:~:text=The%20NHS%20disposes%20of%20around,of%20England’s%20total%20carbon%20footprint.
  5. https://theconversation.com/five-ways-hospitals-can-reduce-their-environmental-footprint-90390
To find our more about TRITEMP™ - Enquire now