Recycling: is it worth it?

Creating sustainability in health and social care

The question of the sustainability of funding for health and social care services has been in the spotlight recently. The Conservative Party manifesto contained proposals around making individuals pay for more of their social care costs, to deal with the “challenges of an ageing society”. Meanwhile, figures suggest that NHS Trusts in England overspent by £770m last year despite a focus on efficiency savings.

However, creating and maintaining sustainability in health and social care is much broader than financial sustainability. It means considering other factors, including environmental, training and project management issues. This takes planning, commitment and an understanding of the aims and expectations of staff and senior management.

A research symposium earlier this year (hosted by Healthcare Improvement Scotland and partners) explored these issues further, looking at the evidence underpinning ways to create sustainable health and care systems.

Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability is something which all organisations are being asked to address and improve. The issue of climate change has led to a focus on behaviour change and a more sustainable use of resources.

  • Buildings – This includes the planning of new healthcare buildings, as well as adaptations to existing structures to make them more energy-efficient. Alternative building materials and designs have been used in new projects to improve energy efficiency, with some buildings even incorporating wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal capture centres. Reducing waste water and improving temperature regulation through heat capture and insulation techniques are also being adopted. While these may be costly initial spends for many, the long-term cost savings are also significant, as well as ensuring that the buildings meet minimum national requirements for energy efficiency and contribute to emissions reduction targets.
  • Resource, waste and recycling management – In many offices and clinical centres, individuals are encouraged to be personally responsible for their own reduction in waste and improved use of recycling facilities; however, this must also be facilitated at an organisational level. Clearly labelled recycling bins, promoting reduction in of the use of disposable water and coffee cups, and encouraging employees to use less paper when report writing (printing double sided for example, or going paperless where possible) are all simple ways in which environmental sustainability can be promoted in health and social care settings. Innovative techniques such as reusing water in internal plumbing, or creating bespoke recycling facilities to help reduce the amount of clinical waste incinerated, are being developed.
  • Remote monitoring and the use of technology – There have been major advances in the use of remote technology to host meetings, video-conferences, follow up appointments and assessments for those in receipt of reablement care via tele-health. Remote monitoring of patients, as well as the use of tele-health and other digital platforms can allow consultations and routine check-ups to take place without either party having to leave the house or office, thereby reducing vehicle emissions used in transport. In social care, remote meetings and cloud-based reporting can allow front-line social workers to remain out on visits instead of having to return to the office to fill out reports, again reducing vehicle emissions.

Sustainable resource management

In the face of more limited funding, joint working between health and social care is being heralded as a new way of cost saving, making the most of ever-depleting resources in the face of ever-greater demands. Being efficient with resources, through effective planning and management is one of the key ways to ensure resource sustainability in the long term, especially for the NHS and local authority social care teams.

Approaches include:

  • Making full use of the entire health and care ecosystem – This means using the entirety of the health and social care ecosystem, its capacity, expertise, resources and the end-to-end care it can provide. It means engaging carers, GPs, nurses, and pharmacists to improve efficiency, make better use of resources, spread the workload and improve satisfaction levels and outcomes for service users.
  • Using careful and well-managed commissioning models  This means making good decisions about commissioning and outsourcing to make best use of funding and other available resources. It also means allocating to appropriate projects, being mindful of the possible consequences of payment by result frameworks, and getting the best value possible.

Sustainability in practice

The final level of sustainability in relation to health and social care practice involves the sustainable implementation of programmes. This means finding ways to ensure that implementation is carried out in ways that ensure long term success and positive outcomes. It involves understanding context, and the culture of the organisation and makes reference to something discussed previously in our blog on implementation science.

Ensuring sustainability in practice requires multiple efforts including:

  • Making sure that practice becomes embedded into everyday work
  • Sharing best practice
  • Maintaining motivation among your workforce
  • Using robust, local evidence in a way that is clear and concise.

Understanding what kind of evidence leads to sustainable programme implementation is also important: economists prefer cost-based strategies, chief executives want one-page summaries, professionals want examples of other organisational based programmes and what was required to implement effectively, and councillors want case studies based around the positive impact on services users. Case studies can at times actually be the least helpful because even in a failing programme there is usually one example you can use to find positives.

Another issue with evidence is the reluctance to report on issues or challenges, or failed projects, when actually some of the greatest insight can be gained from this. All of the learning that can be gained from failures could be useful when trying to make programmes more resilient so they can be more sustainable.



Final thoughts

The concept of sustainability in health and social care cuts across many areas of organisational management and personal practice and behaviour. Encouraging and participating in sustainable practice can mean anything from being more environmentally friendly by digitising reports, recycling paper or changing to energy saving lightbulbs to promoting sustainability of resources through efficient and effective management, utilising the skills, expertise and resources of the entire health and social care ecosystem.

These approaches to sustainability should not only help health and social care as a profession to be less impactful on the environment but will also allow organisations to save money, improve efficiency and ultimately improve outcomes for patients and service users as a result.


* The 5th Annual Research Symposium: Evidence for sustainability – exploring the current evidence underpinning ways to create sustainable health and care systems was held on 16 March 2017. It was jointly hosted by Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Health Services Research Unit and the Health Economics Research Unit at the University of Aberdeen, and the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit at the Chief Scientist Office.

If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested in other articles on implementation theory and commissioning in health and social care.

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Inventive eco-solutions to the planet’s environmental challenges

Nappies made from jellyfish; drones that make electricity; a flame-free alternative to cremation. Unlikely as they may seem, these are just three of the ideas that are emerging to tackle some of the environmental challenges facing the modern world.

Those challenges are many and growing. Climate change, deforestation, water scarcity, rising levels of waste, and dwindling energy supplies all pose threats to health, wellbeing, quality of life, and even to the existence of humanity.

While national and local governments have responded to these challenges by passing legislation and investing in sustainable initiatives, entrepreneurs are coming up with some intriguing eco-friendly ideas.

Taking the sting out of waste management

An Israeli company has found an inventive way to simultaneously tackle a growing global menace in the world’s oceans and a pernicious waste issue. Increasing levels of ocean acidification – sometimes called climate change’s evil twin – have resulted in an explosion in jellyfish populations. Now, scientists working with Tel Aviv-based startup, Cine’al, have found a way to turn jellyfish into a super-absorbent material called “hydromash”. Within next year, the company plans to market nappies, tampons and bandages made from hydromash, which takes less than a month to biodegrade (compared to the hundreds of years for synthetic disposables to break down).

Will consumers take to products made from jellyfish?  Cine’al’s chairman thinks so.

“I’m not worried about this, and in many products it’s likely that the consumer won’t even know about it, similar to many other products with ingredients that are derived from animals and plants.”

 Lift-off for airborne energy

In March of this year, wind farms in Scotland set a new record for the amount of electricity sent to the national grid, generating the equivalent of 58% of Scotland’s entire electricity needs for the month. In recent years, Denmark has also reported impressive achievements from its investment in windfarms.  Such examples demonstrate the potential of wind power, which is more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels.

But conventional wind power equipment is expensive to set up, with the foundations and towers for the turbines making up around 30% of the capital required. However, an alternative may soon be breezing onto the wind power scene.

In April, German energy giant E.ON announced plans to invest €3 million in developing the commercialisation of autonomous flying drones to produce electricity. The technology – which uses a kite-like sail to harvest the energy of high-altitude wind currents – is still in its infancy. But E.ON clearly believes in the potential of airborne power. Last year the company invested €5.9 million in a Scottish developer which plans to create a kite-driven power station.

 Ashes to ashes – without the global warming

Benjamin Franklin, famously observed that death and taxes are the only certainties in this world. As a prolific inventor with an interest in energy conservation, he might have been cheered to learn that 21st century entrepreneurs have discovered an eco-friendly way to deal with one of those certainties.

Resomation (also known as biocremation) is a process that uses water and potassium hydroxide to break down organic materials within a few hours, but without the environmentally harmful greenhouse gases generated by conventional cremation methods. The resulting water can be funnelled into municipal water treatment facilities, while the ashes are returned to the family of the deceased.

The idea has already been applied commercially in the United States, and is now set to be introduced to the UK. In March, the Rowley Regis crematorium in the West Midlands received approval from Sandwell Council to install resomation equipment. The council noted that:

“…resomation allows individuals and families to express their environmental concerns and values in a very positive manner with one of their final actions in life.”

Innovative remedies for a planet in need

While these examples may seem odd, and even unnerving, it’s worth remembering that ideas once considered implausible, dangerous or downright daft are now becoming more widely accepted.

Forty years ago, recycling was regarded as something of an oddball activity. Today, it’s seen as imperative for households, businesses and local authorities. Similarly, vegetable oil has advanced from a purely experimental fuel to a cleaner alternative to diesel.

It seems that, when it comes to the environmental challenges facing the world, necessity really is the mother of invention.


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ReGen Villages: is this the future of sustainable living? 

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‘Illustration © EFFEKT’

The Netherlands covers an area of 41,543 km², and has a population of 17 million people. That works out at 488 people per square kilometre, making Holland the most densely populated country in the European Union. By comparison, the UK has a population density of 413 people per sq km, while the figure for Scotland is just 68 people per sq km

Statistics like that matter when it comes to waste management. Lack of space in the Netherlands has prompted successive governments to divert waste from landfill, and encourage more recycling. The waste management movement was strongly influenced by Ad Lansink, a chemistry lecturer turned politician, who developed “Lansink’s Ladder”. This tool has six “rungs”, with disposal on the bottom, then recovery, recycling, reuse and on the top rung prevention.

The Dutch approach has reaped impressive benefits, with high rates of recycling and most of the remainder being incinerated to generate electricity and heat.

However, there is a growing sense that recycling in the Netherlands may be close to its limit. In 2015, Green Growth in the Netherlands reported that since 2000, the percentage of recycled waste has remained more or less constant.

“Recycled material reached 81% in 2012, a high share that has been fairly constant over the years. This may indicate that the recycling percentages are close to their achievable maximum.”

The Dutch are now looking for further ways to create more value from recycled waste.

ReGen Villages

One such idea is the development of  “regenerative villages” (ReGen). These self-reliant communities will produce their own food, generate their own energy and recycle their own waste.

The ReGen model is the brainchild of California-based ReGen Villages, which is partnering with EFFEKT, a Danish architecture practice, to launch a pilot version in the Netherlands this year. 

Each ReGen community will contain a variety of homes, greenhouses and public buildings, with built-in sustainable features, such as solar power, communal fruit and vegetable gardens and shared water and waste management systems.  The five principles underpinning the concept are:

  • energy positive homes,
  • door-step high-yield organic food production,
  • mixed renewable energy and storage,
  • water and waste recycling,
  • empowerment of local communities

The first 25 pilot prefabricated homes will be located at Almere in the west of Holland. Almere has experienced exponential growth, rising from farmland in the 1970s to become the seventh largest city in the Netherlands.

Waste management is a key element in the ReGen villages, which will have  ‘closed-loop’ waste-to-resource systems that turn waste into energy.

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‘Illustration © EFFEKT’

Prospects and problems

There are plans to roll out the model in other communities, in Europe, North America and the Middle East. Off-grid communities are not a new idea. But the necessary technology, falling costs and consumer demand have reached a point where the ReGen approach may become truly sustainable. The idea offers the promise of meeting the challenges of rising populations making unprecedented demands on limited resources.

Interviewed in The Guardian, Frank Suurenbroek, professor of urban transformation at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, acknowledged the need for such projects, but also highlighted potential problems:

“A possible field of tension is how the technological demands of sustainability and circularity [interact with] spatial configurations needed to create attractive places and the desire to create new houses fast. Both worlds have to learn how to connect. Experiments with new sustainable quarters are interesting and needed, but a major issue is how to do this within existing built areas.”

All eyes on Almere

Once the first 25 homes are built, a further 75 will complete the village. It will take a lot of time, money, skill and muscle to make the project a success . We’ll be watching with interest to see if the vision can be turned into reality.

Our thanks to EFFEKT in Copenhagen for their permission to reproduce the images in this blog post.


If you’ve found this blog post interesting, you may also like our previous posts on recycling and the circular economy:

An all-round approach: could the circular economy help the world turn the corner on climate change?

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Image by Krdan via Creative Commons

This week, politicians from around the world are making a final attempt to craft a deal on climate change at the UN COP21 talks in Paris. The stakes could not be higher. Climate scientists largely agree that if the global surface temperature increase exceeds 2 ºC, the consequences could be catastrophic – drought, fires, coastal flooding, loss of agricultural production and increased spread of disease.

The role of the circular economy

Many believe one key element that could play a crucial role in curbing global warming is the transition from a linear to a circular economy.

Since the industrial revolution, the world’s economies have used a linear “take-make-consume-dispose” pattern of growth, a model which assumes that resources are abundant, available and cheaply disposable. But, in recent years, concerns about a combination of issues, including the depletion of raw materials and the amount of waste being sent to landfill sites, has increased interest in the concept of the circular economy.

The circular economy in focus

In our most recent “In focus” briefing, we take a look at the application of circular economy principles. The briefing outlines the development of the concept, which has moved from the fringes of the ecology movement in the 1970s to the mainstream of thinking on economic development today.

Circular economy principles have been adopted by companies such as Renault and by early-adopting governments in Japan and Scandinavia. Last week, the European Commission adopted a new Circular Economy Package aimed at boosting competitiveness, creating jobs and generating sustainable growth.

As well as highlighting the economic and environmental benefits of the circular economy, the briefing also describes barriers to further progress, such as product design promoting obsolescence and weak fiscal incentives for business.

The briefing also focuses on the role of UK local authorities in making the transition to a circular economy, and provides case studies highlighting examples of good practice.

Practising what they preach

As the international delegates in Paris try to deliver the first new global climate accord in 18 years, they might be inspired by their surroundings. The organisers of the conference have taken circular economy principles to heart, including the provision of locally sourced food, water fountains instead of plastic cups and the rental of furniture, structures, material and lighting for the event.

With the fate of the planet in the balance, it might not be too much of an exaggeration to describe the circular economy as a concept whose time has come.


The Circular Economy (In focus) is available to download here

If you enjoyed reading this blog post, you may also like:

Something old into something new: innovations in recycling

Our popular Ask-a-Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Something old into something new: innovations in recycling

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Image by Nicolas Raymond, released under a standard Creative Commons License from http://freestock.ca/

By James Carson

This is Recycle Week 2015, and, in the spirit of the occasion, I’ve been recycling some of the wealth of information contained in the Idox database in order to highlight innovative work by local authorities in the UK.

I conducted a search of our database to retrieve recently published items on innovations in recycling. I found about 70 reports and journal articles, which shows not only how much information our database has on recycling, but also underlines the considerable interest that’s attached to the subject.

The importance of recycling

Many of the resources highlight the benefits of recycling:

  • recycling lessens the impact of waste on the environment
  • it helps conserve important raw materials and protects natural habitats for the future
  • it reduces the amount of waste going to landfill sites
  • using recycled materials in the manufacturing process uses less energy than that required for producing new products from raw materials.

Progress on recycling

The most recent statistics for the four UK nations show a mixed picture on recycling of municipal waste. In England, recycling rates in 2013 rose by  0.1 percentage point on the year before to 44.2%. The comparable figures were 42.2% in Scotland and 46% in Northern Ireland. Wales recorded a more impressive recycling rate of 54%, almost level with Europe’s recycling champion: Slovenia.

The national figures mask a more complex picture. Local authorities are responsible for municipal waste management, and recycling rates vary enormously from one council to another, with the best recycling as much as 66% of waste and the worst as little as 18%.

Innovations in recycling

Many of the recent resources on our database highlight the innovative ways in which organisations are working to reap the benefits of recycling, and to comply with European waste management regulations.

Stackable bins in Newtonabbey

In Newtonabbey, County Antrim, a recycling trial was carried out by a social enterprise to help local authorities meet new EU waste management requirements to separate different types of waste, which came into force in January.

An innovative stackable bin system, known locally as the ‘Wheelie Box’, comprises a 40-litre box with separate compartments for different types of material (a red flap for cans, aerosols and cartons, a green one for bottles and jars, and so on).

The Wheelie Box has been well-received by residents in Newtownabbey, and refuse collectors report that the new system is much easier to use (and lighter on their backs). The scheme is expected to be rolled out more widely to households across Northern Ireland over the next few years.

Pioneering waste management in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes Council’s recycling record is outstanding. Its 2012/13 recycling rate was 53.5%, well above the English average. Paper, plastics, glass and cans are collected by the council and processed at one of the largest material recycling facilities in the UK.  Now, the council is building on this impressive performance with the development of a fully integrated waste treatment plant to deal with all household ‘black-sack’ waste.

The facility, due to begin operations next year, will incorporate three separate waste management systems:

  • mechanical treatment technology will extract recyclable materials from residual waste
  • an anaerobic digester will treat any food or organic waste to create renewable energy and a compost-like output for use on brownfield sites
  • an advanced thermal treatment facility will turn any remaining, unrecyclable waste into a gas, which is combusted to generate high temperature steam which then creates electricity in a turbine.

The facility is expected to process 132,000 tonnes of municipal waste each year, and to generate £50m of savings against the cost of landfill.

Recycling cycles in Oxfordshire

In 2013, Oxfordshire County Council won a National Recycling Award for its innovative scheme where discarded bikes are quite literally recycled into roadworthy vehicles.  Old and unwanted bicycles are collected at a local household waste recycling centre (HWRC), then taken to one of the council’s Early Intervention Service (EIS) sites.  It’s there that qualified mechanics teach young people how to strip down, repair and rebuild the bikes. As Materials Recycling World reported, the initiative is not only having a transformative effect on the bicycles:

“One young person attending the Hub repaired six bicycles for friends and family, and had gone from being unemployed to starting an apprenticeship, none of which would have been possible without the supply of bikes from the HWRC.”

These initiatives offer just a flavour of the many innovative schemes devoted to recycling. But they demonstrate that the impacts of recycling are not only environmental, but also social and economic.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on environmental issues – to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

 Further reading*

Going separate ways (dry recyclables in England and Wales)
State of the union (waste management approaches in UK)
Information drive for those non-recycling residents
Stacking up (dry recyclables in Newtonabbey)
All systems go in Milton Keynes (innovative waste treatment plant)
A real circular economy (recycling bikes and providing training for young people)

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

A new front in the war against waste

Recycling Point

Photograph: Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

By James Carson

This summer the European Commission announced new measures on waste management. The proposals include a target to recycle 70% of municipal solid waste by 2025. The Commission believes that turning Europe into a “circular economy” will have multiple benefits, including:

  • preventing the loss of valuable materials;
  • creating jobs and economic growth;
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts.

The proposed measures add to the waste management challenges already facing local authorities. Under an existing EU directive, councils must achieve a household recycling target of 50% by 2020. Most have invested heavily in waste and recycling services over the past two decades, greatly improving the national waste recycling rate.

But recently progress has stalled. The UK’s recycling rate in 2013 was 46%, but in England the rate slipped back to 43.2%, while in Scotland the figure was 41.2%. Only a 52.3% figure from Wales prevented the UK recycling rate falling further.  The UK figures are in stark contrast to municipal recycling rates in other European countries.  In Austria, 63% of household waste is recycled, while Germany (62%) and Belgium (58%) are well on their way to achieving the 70% target many years ahead of schedule.

One local authority taking the war against waste to householders’ doorsteps is Croydon Council. Recycling officer, Joanna Dixon, believes community engagement is at the core of improving the rate of recycling, as she explained to Materials Recycling World (MRW):

 “We analysed a lot of data and identified those households [with low or non-existent recycling rates] and then knocked on doors to find out why.”

At the same time, Croydon’s householders were informed that non-compliance with recycling regulations would result in an £80 penalty. As a result, participation in recycling leapt from 0% to 69%.

Other councils, however, regard the enforcement element in the carrot-and-stick approach with caution. Ealing Council’s cabinet member for environment and transport. Bassam Mahfouz, told MRW:

“Fining people might work if it is a really bad recycling area where they would fear the possibility of getting a penalty. But it is a very short-term solution, and those people would not be recycling for the right reason.”

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