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Reusable Waste Containers Reduce Single-Use Plastic in the NHS

2 August 2022

Making the right thing to do, the easiest thing to do, by making the switch to Sharpsmart.

Heidi Barnard, Group Head of Sustainability. Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust


The Northern Care Alliance is an NHS trust formed by bringing together Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and The Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust.

At the start of 2021 they began to look for a more sustainable solution to their waste management. Following a deep dive into their waste segregation, it was clear a strong infrastructure and a defined process was needed, along with support for staff on policies and procedures relating to waste management.

An audit of their existing waste management provision highlighted opportunities to move from using predominantly single- use containers, to an end-to- end reusable waste container solution. This would mean an increased focus on sustainability, by reducing their single-use plastic and emissions and also better management of costs through disposing of waste compliantly.


  • To provide consistency across sites, the trust was keen to use a single supplier to minimise training and user requirements and have one agreement in place
  • Agreeing on where the budget would sit to allow for the purchase of the asset and then the service was critical to provide cost transparency and track savings
  • Ensuring a smooth roll out to two sites which develops a blueprint for further sites
  • Reducing the number of needlestick injuries through incorrect disposal incidents.

The Process

The project was led by the sustainability team within the trust who were keen to put in place a sustainable, compliant, easy solution. They recognised the need to implement a more structured approach to waste segregation to reduce plastic usage in the waste process and to generate both financial and environmental savings, as detailed below in the results.

A pre-audit was carried out by the supplier, Sharpsmart, which included a 6-month projection of sustainability and cost savings for the trust, enabling them to measure and track the effectiveness of the switch.

A trial switch to the reusable containers and associated service was rolled out initially at Rochdale Infirmary in June 2021 with great success. Following the ease of this process, there was a further roll out at Fairfield General Hospital which followed in September 2021. There are plans to roll out the service to a further site soon. By the end of the project, at least three sites will have made the switch to the Sharpsmart solution.

The Results

Key achievements in six months:

Seven tonnes

of plastic disposal reduction

42.15 tonnes

of Co2 emissions


reduction in needlestick injuries in 6 months

£5,525 savings

through reduced

Adopting the Sharpsmart solution resulted in a structured journey towards consistency and standardisation across a merged organisation. Ongoing audits of container contents has improved the ability to report back misuse of contents, this report also enabled education on the correct contents to dispose of.

Switching from single-use clinical waste containers has resulted in a significant reduction in the use of single- use plastics, and the carbon emissions that come from their manufacture and disposal. The reusable containers can be used up to 500 times and are not incinerated with their contents like single-use Clinical Waste Containers

Making the switch has helped the trust address the need to meet environmental targets, ensure internal compliance and generate savings. Users are clear and confident in the process and the solution is all encompassing from one supplier, within one contract.

Next Steps

To start looking at converting your Clinical Waste Containers to an end-to-end service for Reusable Waste Containers, please see our useful links section for the Reusable Waste Containers Contract Information Page.

The framework can enable considerable reductions in single-use plastic consumption and CO2 emissions, compared to the current single-use clinical waste container.

The buying process for this framework will be different to that of standard consumables frameworks from NHS Supply Chain. If you have any questions, please contact our Hospital Care Team.