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Green at Barts Health

Barts Health's sustainability group

Get to know about the work done by the inspirational people working for and with Green at Barts Health

This page is dedicated to in-depth interviews with some of our green-minded members and collaborators.

Read about trail-blazing pharmacist Tase's Oputu's work divesting from fossil fuels, learn about female entrepreneur May Al-Karooni's incredblly successful green start-up Globechain, and go down the rabbit hole of healthcare waste management with local legend Neil Allen...

An interview with Tase Oputu on divesting from fossil fuels and more...

Tase Oputu’s day job is in the pharmacy department, where she is Lead Pharmacist for Medicines Commissioning and Pathways, dealing with the transactions of high cost drugs, local commissioners, NHSE and GPs and more. She spends her time between Royal London Hospital and Whipps Cross Hospital and has been in the trust for 4 years now since starting at Newham where she became head of pharmacy before moving to her current role. She’s also an active member of Green at Barts Health, and as we found out when we sat down for a chat, she’s been VERY busy outside of Barts Health too...


So how how did he you come to get involved with the Green at Barts Health group?

“I know Green at Barts Health has been around for a number of years, but I only got involved in the last 6 months. And the reason why I got involved was because I was elected to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board about this time last year. I was the first black person on the Board, so I’m quite proud of that fact! Along with that comes all sorts of responsibilities; they were already working on their sustainability policy but it hadn't been started properly, so I was asked to join the working group. As part of that, they were working on how the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) as a body could declare a climate emergency. (The RPS is the professional leadership body for the pharmacy profession, and pharmacists in particular.)

“The Board wanted to declare a climate emergency and we did just that in December 2020. I had to jump through several hoops: firstly being elected to The RPS’ Assembly, that’s the governing part of the Board (first Black woman to get onto the Assembly as well as the board!) so that's a really important part, because you can get onto the board but may not get onto the Assembly, and the Assembly is where the massive decisions happen. So the climate emergency declaration had to go through the Assembly.


“So I got to be part of the working group... but declaring the emergency actually was the easiest part! The hard part was creating the policy for HOW we were going to lead the profession to address climate change, so we started working on that by getting a lot of stakeholders together to talk about things. I then got in contact with a group called Pharmacy Declares who are kind of an equivalent of Extinction Rebellion, but for pharmacy specifically (and without the road blockades etc). We then started working on how we were going to divest from fossil fuels.

“This is really important work, but it didn't really hit me HOW important until we got involved with divesting from fossil fuels. And the reason why it hit me then is because of how oil companies have devastated parts of Nigeria, which is where I’m from. I then started seeing things happen on Twitter... and once I saw those links, everything started to switch on for me, and I suddenly realised that Green at Barts health existed! So that's why I reached out and Anna [Moore, G@BH Joint Vice Chair] responded... and by then COP26 was happening! So it's all happening now, and then I think because of what we were doing at RPS, the Greener NHS team got in contact with me to show how pharmacy and medicines-use plays a massive part in climate change and environmental harm as well.”

Can you tell us a bit like about more about where your family’s from, and oil companies’ impact there?

“Yeah, so I think when most think about Nigerians, they think about people who are from Lagos, which was previously the capital. It's a very big city, and a lot of people from there have travelled around the world, but Nigerians are not a homogenous bunch of people.

“At the Turn of the 20th century was “the scramble for Africa”; all of the European colonists going into Africa and chopping up the land and creating these countries, right? I think it's the British that came in and called that land around the Niger River “Nigeria”. It's a region of hundreds and hundreds of tribes and clans - it didn't exist as a country before colonialism. It’s a colonial construct, Nigeria, and all these other countries in Africa. The Niger delta, which is more southern, has lots and lots of little tribes. And in that area a lot of oil. A LOT of oil. Nigeria the country was built on this oil; the production of oil, the finding of oil... and it was and IS incredibly wealthy... Or rather, in certain areas certain people are incredibly wealthy because of oil. But the disparity, the difference between the wealthy and the poor people is massive. Huge! There's light years between them as a result of all sorts of things - corruption, military power, etc etc.  If the wealth was distributed fairly we wouldn't see the poverty that we have in Nigeria or in many parts of Africa. But it has served some people very well to keep things the way they are, and the oil companies in that region have gained a lot from how things are politically in the country.

“All my immediate family are here in in England, and the rest of my extended family all in Nigeria. My dad is no longer with us, but he used to work in Port Harcourt, which is a major area where the petroleum companies are based, and a lot of my extended family live in these areas which have been devastated by these companies...  And as I think about it now, I think that one of my grandfathers actually even owned a petrol station! It's so ingrained in our culture now to be part of all of this, you know?!?!

“When we were doing the plan to divest from fossil fuels, it really just brought it home to me; that particular region, the things that I hear and see regarding the devastation of the lands due to the oil industry. When I see pictures of the oil spills that occur; when the oil companies just let off gas and just burn it for like days, weeks, months;  or when a pipe corrodes in areas where they have pulled away and they’re no longer drilling (people also think that all the drilling is offshore. It's not in Nigeria, it's in inland)... wherever there’s a sudden escape of the oil, people will rush to where that is with their Jerry cans to try and pick some up, 'cause obviously it's free diesel or free oil. They'll rush there, and someone will light a match, and they will set aflame! it's common. This happens. It's amazing and you would think that in a country that has so much oil you wouldn't have to queue for days and days to get diesel and petrol for your car, but you do because the distribution of wealth is uneven and the people don't have access to the refined goods that are being made in their country... It made me really, really aware that divesting is something that we needed to do; we needed to send a message out to these companies - that how they treat the land, how they treat the people of those areas as well, and the effects they’re having globally are significant. And we need them to change.

“I really think that people should look at where they're putting their money. I'm reminded of the ‘80s: I'm old enough to remember when apartheid was in existence and all these companies were operating out of South Africa. If people had put as much effort as they could to exert force financially to get those companies out of South Africa, maybe we would never have had apartheid for as long as we did. It's those types of messages we've got to send to these massive corporations, and people need to think about where they're investing their money.

“But half of the things that we use: where do they come from? What's the source of all of these things? All the plastic surrounding us, the cosmetics that we use etc.? For so many things the starting material is a petroleum product. It's not just what we put into our cars. That's the basis. We have to change how are we use everything around us in a way that will push away from using those particular products. WE need to do more too.


On the Green at Barts Health Whatsapp thread, you brought to my attention Ken Saro-Wiwa, who I hadn't heard-of previously...

“He was a playwright and political activist from an area called Ogoniland in the delta region of Nigeria, and he was also a very outspoken political activist from the 70s to his death in 1995. In Europe, the media that we have means we never hear about the political activism that's occurring in Africa because it doesn't serve people, but political activism is really, really strong In Nigeria and he was very outspoken about the military and their rule, the corruption, and most especially the damage that was being done to the lands of where his people were from. He was executed by the military government in ‘95 - I remember it happening because at the time I I’d been reading a lot of stuff: I'd always been kind of engaged with things when it comes to inclusion, diversity, human rights, activism, and all of that sort of thing, but his execution and the resulting public outcry just piqued something in my mind.

“You don't hear about it here basically, but he was very vocal about what was happening in Ogoniland and the absolute devastation there. Over there, you can just be walking on mud and it will suddenly change underfoot and you’ll find you’re walking on oil, you know? And maybe back then it wasn't articulated, the impact that that has on people and their health, the long term effects of breathing that in every single day, the children whose lives have been cut short who would never even know that what was happening... But today, lives are being cut short there because of respiratory illnesses, and cancer. All of that is what he was fighting about in those days, and definitely for me to be able to make a little bit of an impact now in 2021 by getting RPS to divest, to be able to have an impact in that way, for me, that was really special.

“Lower income countries bear the brunt of climate change to a much bigger degree than we ever will. And yet we are the ones who are creating all the problems, right?  I'm guilty in a way, because I live in a in a rich country and I do all these things, you know, and I am part of creating a lot of the problems that other people are picking up.

“I volunteered in Tanzania for a couple of years in my early career and I saw people living off the land all the time. We did things from scratch there. We never ate processed foods. We didn't have anything that we have here, over there. That for me was a really pivotal experience. The Nigerian connection is important to me, but recently I would say what happened with the young girl Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah - whose death was the first partly attributed to air pollution -  she lived in my neighbourhood, Lewisham South East London and to see a young black girl lose her life because of air pollution... For me, that really hit home as well.

“The public seemed to get going with COP26 and before then with the Extinction Rebellion protests, even though some of the press try to paint them as hippies trying to just be a nuisance. People wouldn’t be upset by their protests if they could really see the impact of climate change on people who are completely powerless. I wish people would put the two things together, that people could see it better than they do at the moment. It's lovely to see David Attenborough and all the beautiful high definition beauty of the planet, but I wish people could see there are people on our planet who  will never get to be on a ventilator when they have respiratory problems caused by pollution. They'll never get to that because there aren’t any ventilators for them where they are.”

“I was a Co-chair at Newham for the BME network, and I find sustainability is always an inclusion thing... They're linked, so I think people need to see that health inequalities and the things that happen as a result of all the things that we've been talking about always impact us as black people, as BAME people, or socially-economically deprived people, disproportionately. I'm lucky that I've got a good job and all of that sort of thing, but it always impact impacts us worse, here in England or on the other side of the world, and that's why I do the work that I do.”



So what's next in terms of that work, for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and more locally?

“I think what's opened up to me are the thoughts "what can I do around me that's gonna make a difference elsewhere? What can make a difference further afield?” and so I try and do things within my sphere of influence, but make that sphere as big as I can! It makes sense to me that the more that we can do individually, the more we can build up the momentum and start to create greater change... you know the butterfly effect, when something flapping its wings in the Amazon has a massive effect over here? That’s what we did with the RPS in setting-up the sustainability policies. We looked at it in different ways: we looked at how the RPS as an organization can be as green as it can be through how it procures things, how it deals with waste etc... And then we looked at what we as individual pharmacists do - as in our interactions with our patients to help them get the best that they can from their medicines, because in that way we can help to decrease the use of medicines, so we can decrease the use of health care. And then we looked at what we can do about how medicines are being manufactured... We can all do things in really small steps - really small things - but they all build up.

“I am looking at how we use our resources around us in the work that I do with the commissioning of medicines and introducing new medicines into use. So when we're talking to pharmaceutical manufacturers about their own particular green credentials, it's nice that we've got the NHS net zero campaign going on to cite. We know that there's the social value of procurement that we can raise too, so we've got all of these little different inroads to exert influence over them.

“I set up the green pharmacy team to kind of sit alongside Green at Barts Health. In pharmacy we do a lot of work with patients, we do a lot of consultations to help them get the best out of their medicines and to improve their health outcomes. We’re constantly looking at what else we can do as a group too: [Green at Barts Health colleagues] recently got work with medical gases including desflurane going again, so we're going to be working with them there. I think what I've been doing is connecting people to the right people at the moment. We are riffing off of the work that they are doing up north on nitrous oxide too; there’s a project called “nix the nitrous”, looking at how nitrous oxide gets wasted and let off into the atmosphere. There are different ways that you can make sure that you're using it more efficiently so we're not letting it loose into the atmosphere. There is the work that our surgery lead pharmacist will be doing on desflurane too.

“Our respiratory lead pharmacist is working with the London Respiratory Network on how to better optimise use of inhalers as well: how we better move patients from the usual metered dose inhalers (the ones that you press and you breathe-in those just little gusts) versus the dry powder inhalers, and how to do that in a in a smooth way that puts the patient at the heart of the decision to make the change. Some people say that actually those metered dose inhalers can be taken to bits and you can recycle the plastic, so that's a good thing that you can do with those ones, but obviously the gases are the worst bit... but though the dry powdered ones are much more sophisticated, it's really hard to break them apart in order to recycle the plastic. Either way, it's all part of a clinical process in terms of making sure that the patient has the right inhaler and is using it the right way, and that actually their respiratory care is optimised.

“Those are some of the big things that are going on at the moment but there is also the regular work we always do in pharmacy: when we've sent stuff up to the wards to be used, we’ll bring [any remainders] back down and make sure that whatever we can reuse doesn't get thrown out.. We assess things and we put them back into circulation - so we recycle  medicines safely within the hospital. Traditionally, that was definitely a cost-saving exercise but it’s also a very sustainable way of doing things.”



Like you say, with enough people and the butterfly effect, change can be affected. What do you think the future holds in this respect, realistically?

“I worry. I think that the media fuels the problem and it makes me really, really cross that we're so distracted by shiny things online or buying new things and chucking the old things away. So that makes me pessimistic, and I think that massive organizations like the oil companies have more power than we are aware of, and that we give them credit for, and it's within their gift to increasingly keep us distracted by things that will allow them to proliferate what they want to do... but you know, at the Green at Barts Health [regular Zoom] meetings I can see members there, and they’ve got their children around them and I'm here having dinner and I'll usually have the screen up and my daughter’s looking at all this stuff and I can see that she’s taking it in... and if enough of us do that for these little kids coming up then maybe there's a hope, right? Sometimes she says things that her and her friends are talking about, and I'm like, “’oh great, maybe it's not all about TikTok for them...’”


You can learn more about Tase's trail-blazing work in her interview with The Pharmaceutical Journal here.

An interview with Globechain founder May Al-Karooni

Globechain is like Freecycle for the corporate world; organisations such as Barts Health that subscribe to the service can list unneeded  items of all kinds for others (including charities and not-for-profits) to make use-of, and then get the benefit of in-depth data on exactly how their donations are used. It is among the 1.7% of businesses receiving venture capitalist funding in 2020 that were founded by a woman. We caught up with that founder, May Al-Karooni, pictured, to learn about the work she’s done with Barts Health and beyond…


So tell us how it all started, May.

“I didn't wake up and go ‘when I grow up, I want to work in waste’, let's put it like that!

“I'd always thought maybe I’d like to have a business, but I was thinking more cupcake shop on the corner, you know? A coffee shop... And some days now I’m like ‘what if I’ve created a monster?!?!’, but it is so satisfying when I see the results and clients come back, and you just want to do better. It's about pushing boundaries? And thinking ‘if we can do this, what else can we do?’ And I think that's kind of the power of it.

“Back in the day, when I worked for Corporate organisations there was no such word as “sustainability”, a facilities person at the bank I worked at told me It was costing them around £50,000  per person to make an office move - so that's logistics, transportation, warehousing, buying new products, disposal fees for the “old” stuff - and that's nothing compared to some operations, and all the extra hidden costs.

“So I just thought ‘it's commercial madness! Why isn't anyone digitalising waste?’ This was around the time when Airbnb and Uber were just becoming famous in the UK and I said ‘why don't we connect enterprises with charities, non-profits, and businesses, to reuse and redistribute unneeded items, but at the same time generate social impact date on the giving?’ In banking terms, that’s ESG data. Now no one had even heard of ESG When I first started but in essence Globechain generates ESG data on the impact of where items go. So ESG stands for Environment, Social, and Governance - it's used on multiple levels with finance teams and over the years it's become a very powerful risk assessment after profitability for businesses. In essence, it’s economic and environmental impact data, and it’s very valuable.

“So that's how Globechain came about… it took four years of self-financing but we started to generate revenue and with that (the only time I used management consultants!) A report from McKinsey and PWC  4 years into the business basically concluded ‘this economy is worth £4.3 trillion!!’ So I included that in a business plan, put a slide deck before some venture capitalists and got just under £1,000,000 of funding in late 2018.

“That’s the challenge involved in these types of models, 'cause they're very difficult to build-up. It's not a well-known industry so it's a lot harder to raise capital. I did it for years on my own with an outsourced website! With the funding we grew our team so we’re now at 10 FTE and we're in the UK, Spain, New York and Texas and we have over 10,000 members on Globechain!”

Amazing, so when did you get involved with Barts?

“So initially when I first started, I thought Globechain would just be furniture… and then the 1st client, believe it or not, was Arcadia Group -Top Shop - and they were like ‘we've got a problem with fixtures and fittings…’ It turns out the whole industry has a problem with fixture and fittings but that's a separate story! It started off that way and then Barts came about specifically for medical equipment. What was really interesting about Barts was it was the first time we'd worked with the public sector, and the procurement of it, and also the compliance and health & safety around what they could reuse or give away. And so there was a lot of learning, but Neil [Allen - waste manager] and the team were amazing because they were risk-takers and pioneers at the time. I positioned my tiny site and asked  ‘we can redistribute your medical equipment and furniture’ but how do we store stuff? And track stuff? And who are these people picking-up things we offer?’ etc.

“So we worked with Barts to create a process for all that, as at the time you were looking at new technology and repair schemes and so on. It was a real collaboration, and credit to Neil and team: the beginnings of the Globechain website were not what you see today, so for them to trust it was great… and when we saw the first items go, you know, it was kind of mind-blowing! People were taking items and in massive bulk! Like loads of your crutches. Another example: patient beds. Unbelievable pieces of equipment, so complicated, and yet there were being disposed-of previously ! With Globechain they were going to help  rebuild hospitals in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Libya.

“And then we were getting the stories off the back of that and we would ask the charities to send videos to us. I remember the very early days; as a start-up you’re focused on revenue and you've got investors and you've got to deal with your metrics and financials and you're always tight with money and trying to get the product right, so you can forget about the human aspects of it and the empathy, and actually how valuable that was  to engage people and also motivate people. But that’s what struck me when we got our first stories back. It takes a lot for me to cry but recipients had filmed their van of donations arriving at a rural part of Sierra Leone and they were taking off the medical equipment and there were doctors crying and they took pictures of the kids and everything you're like… ‘Oh my gosh, it was all worth the pain of no salary for four years, building it up!’ And then there was that light bulb moment where you realise actually how privileged we are to live in a society where this stuff is on our doorstep.

“But what’s nice for Barts Heath is we built-up a local set of charities. So it's a community within the community of where the hospitals are. So 98% goes to local causes or to something we provide called “internal reuse”. When we started growing we had a lot of big companies want to use us, but Corporate  want everything everywhere overnight so we created something called “internal reuse and learning”, and that allows organisations (some of them global) to share stuff within their organisation before it goes out to what I called the general public side of Globechain, so that internal reuse is prioritised. Others don't see it. We've got organisations using it for thousands of products and it provides them an audit trail basically of where your assets are going. You know who took it, what they did with it, if it helped with upskilling employment levels, how many kilos of carbon it saved, and so on.

“We work with a lot of construction companies too, who do lots of strip-outs and demolition. So we know all the facilities, management and construction firms such as our clients, British Land. Anything from windowpanes, fire doors, lighting, and carpets; to office furniture and fixtures from retail and hospitality get added to Globechain. Some items are requested within 20 mins of listing them!”

“What we realised is charities want to pick up this stuff in bulk and we just pushed the boundaries to see what else we can give away. Neil and the team were really good at that too. They were allowed to become quite fearless in what they started listing on Globechain; it started with low risk products like a chairs or benches or things like that (when they weren’t being repaired), but it soon developed to some really crazy equipment! Sometimes I was like ‘What IS that?!?!’ We’d have to Google some of it. But we got to know people that know about all kinds of equipment and then it's easier for us to match things that could go to the appropriate places; like schools or care homes, different types of youth centres etc. And honestly ... It was fun! It was great bringing on new charities all the time and they'd be like ‘WOW, we've never had access to anything like this before’, you know? Because if you think about it, it’s very difficult for these non-profits to infiltrate a corporate establishment - they don't know how. And that is what our system does, it creates a universal language allowing something like a public sector organisation - which is complex in itself – to communicate properly with non-profits and businesses that would like to take items, preventing waste.

“We've actually launched very recently an API logistics integration to prevent the situation where smaller operations show-up to collect huge amounts of gear in a tiny van! So we now offer couriers. We don't force them, it's a choice, but if you use this you see the couriers’ vans on their way - just like an Uber!”


So what else is coming to Globechain then?

“Well, it’s a little bit confidential, some of it, but we will be adding some machine learning in to predict values of the assets and goods added to the system, going forwards, so further improving our ESG data and carbon data on that side. We are growing into the US and more of Europe, so it's really execution and growth and just classic business growth for the team, engaging people and so on.

“We have another API integration we've built for organisations so that people like Neil and co. wont even have to even take a photo of stuff they offer on Globechain anymore: We can plug it into your existing inventory systems and pull the photo from the equipment information automatically!”

Neil is a big exponent of us needing to control what comes in the front end, not just guarding waste at the back door…

“Yeah, I think Barts is definitely unique. I mean, it is one of the largest trusts, and when we started working with you guys, for us to get the (then) largest NHS Trust trusting us was a big deal. Neil and team have brought this type of model into the market for NHS Trusts and every time we speak to other Trusts we always say ‘speak to Neil and the team 'cause they have so much data now on it that they can tell you exactly what works, what doesn't, what goes etc.’

“Since Barts joined we now have Great Ormond Street, Chelsea and Westminster, and Royal Marsden using us and we're talking to a couple of others. But there are big challenges involved in working with the public sector; procurement is a nightmare, organisations can be very bureaucratic, and often don't have much money. You forget about other challenges in organisations like the NHS too: The way the IT systems are set up and the security and the firewalls etc., so we had to really rethink ‘how can someone access our stuff’ at first. You could have an all singing all dancing API that does super-duper things, but if your software in your integrations can't handle it because no one’s looked at upgrading in the last 15 years 'cause you've not had to or you can’t afford it, it’s no good!

 “The bigger challenge in working with the public sector can be communicating to people using these systems and getting them on board: how do you change people’s behaviour and mindset?

“So I remember Neil  early days creating a flow chart on where things went, and  I still believe Neil probably uses that with teams  when people come and he'll be like “you put X on Globechain in this situation, or if it's repaired you go through this route” or “no we're going to keep that. It goes here…” So Neil’s got a really good system in place but you know that’s delivered the efforts of the waste audit team that reiterate, sing and repeat it. You basically have to be a parrot: Repeat it, repeat it, repeat it until everybody is on board.”


What do you think will happen in the future in this sector?

“I think it's going to be more expensive to incinerate, and I think waste companies are going to be under pressure to segregate their waste even further than the classic materials. And I think they'll be bigger fines for contamination and the way they operate.

“Organisations are probably looking at their 2030 carbon targets they made-up 10 years ago and are going to have a shock because they haven't implemented any solutions, or erroneously thought they could do it all themselves. So I think there's going to be a little bit of a panic, and I think once government drivers happen they’ll hit consumers. For NHS Trusts that means their patients.

“Unfortunately, you're always going to have some people in poverty. It's just the way it works: that’s capitalism. But we can help alleviate or move people up out of that, or create jobs. If you add a small bench or a chair to Globechain and you're like, ‘oh, it's only worth £20, who's going to want that?’, that's £20-saved or a chair-gained that could help a new business set up an office, right? And save them money! That chair could help kids at school get educated. Do you know that patient bed you add? It's not going to be used once - it's going to be used hundreds of times in a community in a rural area. Could they pay for those things themselves? No. We have a saying. It's ‘a new life from unwanted stuff’. And the ‘new life’ has a bit of a double meaning there as it’s a new life for the product but it could indirectly be giving a new life to someone receiving it.”


We have a lot of very creative people in Green at Barts Health, including clinical entrepreneurs working on sustainability projects. This may sound trite, but as someone who is absolutely smashing it, can you give them any advice?

“Don't fear failure. So one thing our team do if they make a mistake or something's gone wrong, they own up. And you know what? We don't even pay attention to whose fault it was. My thought is always, ‘that's great if you solved it already. If not, should we get on a call and do it?’ So it's almost like fail, fail fast, and get it over quickly.

“In a corporate or public sector, that mentality is not always prevalent, but I'd say that's the biggest thing: take a few risks. I think this is the best time after COVID to take risks as people are really looking at old models and going ‘It's not working’. So I think this is the right time to push. Push yourselves a bit, because it's satisfying too, right?

“Look what you've had to do in the NHS these last couple of years. Look how quickly you had to do all that too… So why aren't we doing that with long term other things? Like climate change, the biggest challenge facing humanity!”

What happens to Barts Health's Waste - an Interview with Waste Manager Neil Allen

“We're in different worlds... But we're not! We all work for the NHS and we've all got different backgrounds and skills, but actually when you're talking about sustainability and green issues, you can come from all aspects of the NHS; if you work in pharmacy, it's all about drugs and if you work in procurement, it's all about purchasing and and buying... but we’ve ALL got to change our carbon footprint. It's so massive!”



We caught up with Barts Health’s award-winning Waste Manager Neil Allen, to hear him talk effusively about his work... and he took us right down the rabbit hole of waste management in the NHS. But first, he had to let us know something:


“I'm not a waste manager, you know? Because waste in in a lot of aspects is a resource. I'm a reuse manager! I've got the wrong title! Because I don't believe in waste even though we throw away thousands and thousands of tons of it. That's just not my game. It's just not my mindset... waste in terms of an element of the NHS and its carbon footprint is tiny. Athough there's a lot of it, in comparison to the footprint that the NHS has on transport and drugs - they are some of the biggest areas where we have to improve our carbon footprint - waste is part of the mix, but it's not the biggest story... "

"So what's the story?"


“The issue is that everybody that works in the NHS can SEE waste: You don't SEE transport emissions. You don't SEE the vehicles coming in every day with what's purchased by the NHS. You don't SEE how many drugs we've administered... But you do SEE waste and that's why people attribute waste as the biggest subject matter around sustainability and improving the carbon footprint. But it isn't.


“We've got a massive agenda on waste for the next 10 years. We've got to reduce it by 50%. We can't do that without people’s help. Because It's not down to me: what comes in the front door goes out the back door, and I'm at the back door... but we’ve got to stop what's coming in the front!

“It's bizarre when you say it like that, but that's actually where waste comes from. It all comes from somewhere and it comes from the beginning and all the packaging and everything that we throwaway goes out the back door. So yeah, procurement is the biggest one. That's where we've got to engage with what's coming in at the front door.  


“I used to go round doing waste audits at Whipps Cross Hospital some 15 years ago, and you couldn't find a doctor for love nor money that would engage or be remotely interested in waste. Now they all want some of my time! We've never known such a brilliant time for people that are so switched on to sustainability and green issues. Rob Speight, Deputy Director of Estates and Facilities comes from the background of energy. In fact, he used to be a coal miner! We're the same age So he he was in the miners strike in the 1980s and we’ve both had quite a journey to get where we are with so many switched on people.


“Working with us are the waste audit team, and they are absolutely brilliant! They deliver a brilliant program of educating clinical staff in waste segregation. They are only a small team if you think about it. We’ve got 17,000 staff, 5 hospitals and and satellite establishments as well, but the team get round the trust once every 13 weeks: they're constantly in and out of clinical areas, wards, and departments engaging with the clinical staff and and and constantly educating staff on how to properly dispose of their waste.


“It sounds bizarre, but actually that's where the most damage in terms of emissions, power, carbon footprint, and transport miles is: all around the aspect of collection, disposal and destruction of clinical waste streams... so if people have put the wrong waste in the wrong bags, it costs the NHS so much more money. It adds to our carbon footprint. It adds to transport miles on the road. It pollutes  the atmosphere more. So please put your waste in the right place! "


Fix Up, Look Sharps

"There is a big issue with sharps containers. They’re one of the worst aspects of clinical waste to destroy because  virgin plastic [in the form of sharps bins] has got high chlorine content. When it goes for destruction, because of the nature of the waste, it has to be incinerated at high temperature. And when I say high temperature, I mean over 1000 degrees!


"And because of the high chlorine content of sharps containers, they're eating away at the metal of the destruction plants that were built 30 years ago! The infrastructure needs to be replaced and it's breaking down because of all this.


"So using reusable sharps containers that don't need assembling is one of the greenest things we could do, and they could be used up to about 600 times rather than using 600 different sharps containers. We have data to prove that actually single use sharps containers are a risk because people aren't assembling them properly, while reusables are cost neutral - it's the purchase of a single use bin versus reusable sharps containers as a service. If it's cost neutral, why don't we don't use reusable sharps containers?... We hope to introduce these as part of a contract document to tender when we go out in March or when we re tender for March/April 2023."


Dirty MRFs

“But what about other waste?” we ask.


“Not a lot of people know about this”, Neil replies, “we bail all of our cardboard, but we don't separate out our paper waste from our domestic waste.

“It goes to a MRF: that’s a Materials Recovery Facility. But you you have “dirty MRFs” and “clean MRFs”... now dirty MRFs mean that 80% of the waste goes to a municipal destruction plant and they're generally waste-to-energy plants (so they don't inject any energy, they're using the waste as a fuel, and that tends to burn at around 500 degrees).


"So a dirty MRF will pull out aspects of recyclables, but 80% of the waste will go to a municipal destruction plant and 20% would go through, separating our recyclables. A clean MRF means that 80% of what you're throwing away in domestic waste goes for recovery in terms of recyclables, and only 20% would go through as waste to an energy plant.


“But where we want to be is pulling out single use aspects from the domestic waste stream...But that's a lot of investment. That means having another bin in your place of work - so for all of our offices, where you only have one waste bin, you'd have two, or you'd have 3... and in some areas you might not be able to do it because your office is too small or your clinical or your departmental area is too small. So all of these factors have to be played around with. And then you've got the investment of purchasing the infrastructure... but we're up for the game because we need to deliver this 50% reduction in our carbon footprint on waste!


Where we’re going we don’t need roads...

“Good man! But how are you going to do that?”  


“Now, the only way we're gonna reduce transport miles is bring waste closer to home. So how do you do this? if you've got to carry on taking waste out of our hospitals, how do you reduce the road miles? How do you reduce the carbon footprint? Well, it's about not having it on the road for longer periods. Let's take the Royal London Hospital, right? So the Royal London has an HTV vehicle that's collecting all of their clinical waste going in every day, twice a day. Our clinical waste lorries are the biggest vehicles that visit our hospital sites, and on a typical Monday we have one vehicle that comes in to the Royal London from Larkfield, Kent. Once they get back to Larkfield they have 42 full bins, some of it will be our infectious clinical waste. That's orange bags. Some of it will be full of sharps containers etc., it will contain all of the different bags I call “the rainbow of waste”. So then say 30 of our 42 bins will get treated at Larkfield, in an ATT machine: That stands for Alternative Treatment Technology.


"That's like a massive great big screw about over 30 feet long with super heated steam around it and at the end of it are shredders. So the waste goes in one end and it goes along the screw so it's kind of broken up and the super heated steam will actually sterilize the waste and make it inert. And then it goes through shredders at the end of the process, which actually makes it come out at the end like a kind of a wet mush. It's completely inert. It's completely sterile 'cause its gone through that super heated steam. So that's what we do with our soft bag infectious waste.


"So that's  30 bins that Larkhall have just put through their plant that ATT would waste, but we've also got another 12 here and maybe five of them will be full of sharps, containers, etc., and maybe another five have got pharmaceutical waste in them... But all of that, whether it's Sharps, pharmaceutical waste, anatomical waste, or cytotoxic waste all has to then go off for high temperature incineration that's burning at over 1000 degrees. So then that then has to leave Larkfield for another site where they've got a high temperature incineration plant.  

“So you can imagine when COVID happened everything was going in the orange clinical waste bags... it nearly destroyed the clinical waste industry. they they came to a standstill. They couldn't destroy the clinical waste fast enough, and it brought their plants to a grinding halt. So for six months of COVID it was the worst part of my working life in the NHS - it was horrendous!

Playing the percentages...

“There's never a dull moment at these destruction plants. People aren't twiddling their thumbs at any point, it constantly keeps coming in. Now you see how clinical waste ss all tied up with road miles and emissions, so if you could avoid putting stuff into the infectious clinical waste stream you are then sending less of that waste to the ATT plan that uses more energy to destroy it.  


“There's another waste stream called the “offensive waste” stream – that goes in the yellow bags with a black stripe - this is soft bagged waste from the activity of health care but not from an infected or infectious patient. Our clinical waste team over the last seven years have been the biggest aspect of us turning around and greening up. what they've done is they've gone into departments, Gone into areas, and the vast majority of what was going into orange bags is now going into offensive waste bags. It’s now all come back to basically where we were pre COVID. By law, offensive waste doesn't need to undergo any treatment process to render it safe. it's not infectious. It's not from an infected patient, and once you put it in a bag and sealed it up, ultimately 24 hours later any bugs are dead.


“So roughly, if you think of all our clinical waste as 100%,  offensive waste at our trust is around 60% of that 100%.
20%-21% percent is infected clinical waste, the orange bags, and the other 19%-20% is sharps, pharmaceuticals, anatomicals and cytotoxic waste containers. So we've got a mix now of about 60/20/20 of the 100%.

“Now the offensive waste stream; we could if we chose to weaken landfill it. But we don't. Tony Blair's government brought in the landfill accelerator and what that meant was year on year, If you chose to send your waste to landfill, the tax increased by 15%. It's an effective incentive to stop companies sending their waste to landfill and and do something else, whether that's recycling it, sending it to a waste to energy plant, or municipal destruction plant, where they would burn it as a fuel at around 500 degrees. Most offensive waste goes to a municipal incineration plant or waste-to-energy plant. They burn the waste, use it as a fuel and that will generate energy for the National Grid... As as per usual though, a lot of the Scandinavian and northern European countries outside the UK do things better with it than we do..."

Get the flock out of here?!?!

“Did you know we’ve a waste destruction plant at Whipps Cross?”


“A what?!?! Where’ve you hidden that? I didn’t know that!”


“We do, and we switched it on in 2016, so at that time, a year into us being Barts Health. A company called Eurotec got in touch and said they had a piece of kit, well tested in the Northern European countries that have also been used in a lot of hospitals in France and Germany for over a decade. They wanted to bring it to the UK marketplace, but they were trying to find a trust or hospital Where they could install one... we were that trust.


We've got two machines at the Whipps Cross Hospital site and and the destruction plant’s quite small.And it actually sits on a piece of land that they greened up, because the piece of land that we eventually gave them to build their plan was two great big disused Oil tanks for the old Whipps Cross boiler house. So that land was contaminated With diesel fuel and oil.

“So they straight away cleaned up that bit of land and then they've built their plant on it!

“And then they started to take our infectious clinical waste and offensive waste and put it through the plant. So the piece of kit is like this: They've got two machines that looks like a great big massive washing machines. Maybe twice as big as a top-loader washing machine, and if you open the lid, in the bottom of the container is a blade. A big stainless steel blade and it spins at about 2000 revolutions per minute... and the machine also microwaves the waste that's been put inside it. So you put in waste, Shut the shut the door, switch the machine on, and the blade will spin at 2000 revolutions a minute. That then generates heat anyway, so that's sterilizing the waste and then they're microwaving it at the same time. That's also bombarding all the bits of bad stuff and infectious clinical waste... So at the end of a 40 minute cycle you lift up the lid and what’s left is down to 10% of its original volume... and it's virtually nothing in there apart from apart from a dry flock..."

“what the flock?!?!”

“You can touch it! It looks like cloth flock. But it's tiny, tiny pieces... But it’s still got calories in it. It's still got energy in it. The vast majority of it actually is plastic, because if you think of what goes in a typical clinical waste bag, it might be continence pads,  swabs with blood on them etc., but all that's been cut up... and in the process of the heat being generated the excess water is drained away to waste water pipes  and so the flock is dry, And warm to the touch and perfectly safe! We gather all the flock up in bins and compact it in a great big 40 yard compaction machine And once a week a lorry will come in lift that and drives it down to Kent.


"That compacted mass then gets bulked up and shipped off down the Thames estuary over the north sea to Scandinavia, and guess what? They use this calorific flock as a fuel To heat up all of the hot water for their housing projects! And greener than that, when they burn it, it’s burning at a lower temperature and on a small scale! Now this is where the Scandinavians have it down to a fine art: on a small scale if you're burning waste in smaller power stations or smaller power projects like this , you can carbon capture it. So it's greener still!!

"So that's what they're doing in Scandinavia. They're taking our flocked waste And using it to heat up their housing projects now.
You might be saying - and I say the same thing - why are we not doing it here?”


Bring it on home!

“alright - why are we not doing it here?”


“Well... the body that governs all of this in the United Kingdom is the Environment Agency.


“Whipps Cross was the 1st hospital in the UK to ever ever have this technology , and have it licensed, because the Environment Agency HAD to license this technology. They initially said to the cus, 'no, you can't do it. There's no way you can do it. You have to prove to us that what comes out the bottom of your machine is going to be completely inert and no, you can't burn it in this country. You can only landfill it.'


"So in some ways, although the Environment Agency can be green in other ways, they're not in every way... But we jumped through the hoops though and Eurotec managed to get that technology licensed. So we built the plant. Now all of our infectious soft bagged clinical waste at Whipps Cross goes through that destruction plant.  So since December 2016, we've taken all those aforementinoed rod miles off the bloody road, all the vehicles coming in every day, 365 days of the year... we've stopped it!


"So you can see how working in partnership with a private environmental company and bringing and treating your own clinical waste on site is one of the biggest and greenest things we can do to green up the NHS. So stop sending it on the road and stop destroying it hundreds of miles away: Bring it back home.

But you know what I really want to tell you about? The future... “


And that’s exactly what he’ll do in part 2 of our interview. Watch this space...

The Waste Manager Strikes Back! The 2nd Part of our Interview with Neil Allen!

In part 2 of our wide-ranging interview with Barts Health’s Waste Manager Neil Allen, he goes into exciting and ambitious plans for the future, covering battleships, pyrolysis, swivel chairs and Sri Lanka...


A Local Plant for Local People...
“So that destruction plant we have at Whipps Cross Hospital will not be there in two year’s time because the hospital is being rebuilt. We won't have space or the land to keep it there.  

“The big idea, The Big Green Idea, we have is to build a bigger and better destruction plant (a similar type of clinical waste treatment plant to Whipps Cross’ current one) on a large plot of land the Trust owns over by Newham Hospital.  We’re starting a feasibility study for this, and we've already engaged with Mariana WM (formerly Eurotec), who currently run our destruction plants at Whipps Cross; they're very, very keen to participate and they have the experience to be able to deliver such a big project. The strip of land is right to the side of the A13, which means it's ideal for transporting waste right up off the road and straight into a new destruction plant and the A13 serves the center of London and goes way out east to Kent and the coast.

“It will be brilliant to get a bigger and better destruction plant built there and be able to then transport all of our soft bag clinical waste there from all of our other hospital sites. Transporting that clinical waste within a - what is it? - 12 mile radius at the most? So keeping it local local, greening it up, keeping the transport and its emissions down! If we can pull this off we're talking in maybe four/five years time. But by that time we're hoping we’ll have greener transport infrastructure; the big heavy goods vehicles will move to electric or hydrogen fuel.


“So the Big Green Idea is that we'll have a transport fleet that belongs to ourselves, that's in-house, and we would use that team to drive greener vehicles that we'd purchase and effectively collect the clinical waste from all our different hospitals along the A13 into our destruction plant! It sounds too good to be true... But that's where we want to get to. And if we don't do that, if we can't deliver something similar to that, we are never ever gonna be able to reduce our carbon footprint on the destruction side of clinical waste - ‘cause as the law stands, currently we have to destroy it. We can't not destroy it. So it’s about doing the best thing with it for want of a better word.”  


No Pyro No Party

“But know what makes this even better? ...You ever heard of pyrolysis?”


Pie- what?


“One of the UK’s battleships has got a pyrolysis plant built-in... so they go away to sea for two years and all of their general waste that’s generated from feeding the 600 people onboard they just put through the pyrolysis plant and effectively it uses the waste. It burns the waste but burns it cleanly and efficiently because it's burnt in a kind of airtight chamber and all of its emissions are contained within: it doesn't burn at 1000 degrees and it doesn't need fuel to keep it going, it just relies on the waste that you put within it and combusts it concentrated, but actually doesn't release any of the emissions while it does it. And basically burns it to ash. So what goes in as 100% comes out as 5%... like dust.

“So Marianna MW are thinking they're going to plug on to the back of their destruction plants - where we get this dryer flock coming out as the end product - a pyrolysis technology piece of kit at the back end of the plant... which means that they can then burn that as a fuel on site. So we wouldn’t have to transport it, and we could plug that into heat and water: To. Heat. Up. The. Hospital.”



“Yeh. So we're now at the point where it's really fun: Five years away from something that we've we've just dreamed up with them. We'd love to see it happen, and if we can pull it off it will be one of the most green projects you could ever develop in terms of managing and destroying what you have to destroy as aspects of clinical waste.

“So THAT’s our Big Green Idea. It really is so exciting to be able to potentially pioneer something that is like - no one’s ever thought of it before! It's not just me that's excited by it: Rob {Speight –AD of Estates} is excited by it. Marianna WM are excited by it, as is our procurement lead, that's Matt: he sees the vision. Really, we've got lots of other people all plugged in on the idea. We pulled in some consultants that are working with the Mayor of London, to look at this to see if we can get funding for it... we've got the right people in place to try and make it happen.


“Around the area of this land we've got over by Newham hospital there's a school, there's a housing estate, there’s a Community Center, there's a Sports Center, and we're thinking, “well, if the hospital can't use the heat and hot water from a destruction plant... Why not the community next door?” And so it's about then potentially engaging with the council to see whether or not they would be happy to develop this collaborative Green agenda around clinical waste destruction.

“And then also, when it gets bigger than this, we're thinking “well, if we're taking all of our hospitals’ clinical waste, and we've got this collaboration now with Barking, Havering and Redbridge Foundation Trust, why not plug-in with them? Why not plug in with North East London Mental Health Foundation Trust? Why not plug in with East London Foundation Trust and take all of their clinical waste from the whole of this North East London Sector within the 12 mile radius and green it up even more?” If we were to do that, that would bring all the costs down in terms of the treatment of the clinical waste: The more you put it into it, the more it brings your cost per tonne down in terms of having to pay for the process to work.

“It'd be brilliant if we can pull it off. If the feasibility study says no, we've got to think of another idea. It all rests on the feasibility study, because ultimately if the feasibility study says “no”, we can't fold it into a new waste management contract.”


Progressive Alliance


“So let's talk a little bit about the other side: where we want to be with a new waste management contract for the future... We’re working on it at the moment but there's a hell of a lot of work to do. But once we start to get into the nitty gritty next year, we will find out what do staff want out of a new waste management contract... We will have a task and finish group in that process of communication and collaboration.


“In days gone by people like me would sit down with a few people in procurement and go through the tendering process exercise and the cheapest contractor would get the waste management contract. Well that can't be the case anymore - we're progressive and we want to do something better!


“We want to deliver our green agenda and net zero carbon for waste at Barts health, and we want to declare a climate emergency. So if we're going to do all of that, then we have to be serious about engaging with switched-on people that want to deliver that too. So we now collaborate in awarding a new waste management contract. We will set up a task and finish group and we want people like Green at Barts Health to be party to a new waste management contract. There are so many things that I can think of that we can improve, but we can't do it alone. We need people like Green at Barts Health and all the staff that are involved with them to help us deliver that.  


“People do want to recycle more... But that requires a lot of investment in infrastructure... People want it to happen, but what's all tied up in this? ... Cost – and investment, in being able to deliver a greener project waste management project. You have to invest in the future to make sustainability deliver on its goods and services. If you're not prepared to invest to actually bring your waste down, you wont save money. That's effectively what the waste management team have done through behavioral change, and they do the same on the non-clinical side, encouraging change in teams like Serco. Collaborating with people is so important. I'll give you an example...



“I'll tell you a little story about May Al Karooni...If you turn the clock back about six or seven years ago, she used to work for a bank in London, in a big open plan office. One day she looks up from her work and sees people at the other end of the office have all started standing-up; they were being given brand new desks and brand new office swivel chairs, and then workmen were connecting-up their PC's again, as their old desks and chairs were being taken away. Basically, these people were getting closer and closer and closer to her desk. She hadn't heard anything about this, but they eventually got to her and say “do you mind standing up please? We're taking your desk away and giving you new ones”.
“Well”, she said, “there's nothing wrong with my desk. There's nothing wrong with my swivel chair. It looks brand new. Why’re you getting rid of them?”
“Oh the bank's just renewing everything on this floor. We're taking away the old ‘n’ bringing in some new furniture for you” replies a workman.
But she said “well, what were you gonna do with my desk and chair? There’s nothing wrong with them!”.
There was nothing wrong with anybody's, but the reply was “We're just gonna throw them away.”


“So...Six months on from that, she got made redundant and she just asked herself “what am I going to do with my redundancy to make things better for this world? And she thought back to how what she saw six months ago was criminal.” So she put all of her redundancy into developing her own web based company similar to FreeCycle, but aimed at a corporate market. And that was how she set up Globechain! So it’s a web-based platform, and companies like Tescos, Waitrose, Marks and Spencers, Nando's etc. pay Globechain a sum of money per year so that their staff can upload to Globechain stuff that they don't want. So they might be closing a store down and want to get rid of some furniture, say. They'll get their staff to upload that to Globechain and then Globechain users - a bit like the users of Freecycle - just say “yes, I want that!” and they get it for free! They arrange their own transportation and collection, but they get it for free.

We found out about Globechain and engaged with May in 2013, when they’d never worked with the public sector, local authorities, the police, or the NHS. She was really keen to see whether or not she could get it to work for the NHS, and the beauty of it is with Globechain it's extremely transparent: every item that you upload that then gets taken by a charitable cause or a community or a social benefit project, they have to write a report to Globechain about what they've done with that product or products. So although they get the items for free, they have to give something back to Globechain which then gives back to us. That's great statistical data. So Rob [Speight, AD of Estates] could say to me, “hey Neil, you've given away 100,000 pieces of kit from our trusts - what are you doing with it? Where did you send it? What's it being used for?” and I can easily generate a report telling him what we gave away last week via Globechain and where it went and the good it’s done.

“We've given away over 121,000 items in total!”


Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon)

“Our colleague in charge of the decommissioning of the Nightingale Centre at Excel Contacted me to say “I've got a load of stock that's coming up to its end use-by date that I don't know what to do with, and stock that’s got lots of time left on its availability for reuse, but I'd like us to give it away rather than having a massive great big bill for just physically disposing of it”. The first phase of this was a number of drip stands that we had in storage for the Nightingale Hospital that we never used, so I said, “OK, well I'm sure we've got charities that are always interested in taking things that our hospitals throwaway that we can contact via Globechain”.

“There were a lot of these items though, and when you're dealing with charities, you know they’re fantastic people but they've often got limited resources in their own right and lack capacity. We uploaded our items to Globechain, and we did get some takers but they were few and far between and not requesting the large quantities we had. As it turned out though, we had a charity that we've been using over the last nine months via Globechain quite frequently and they've been an absolute asset in terms of repurposing some of this stuff. They managed to take the vast majority of it. They were brilliant: They had to dismantle these drip stands, break them down, they filled up huge containers with these stands!


Wow – who are they?

“The charity that that took these is the Sylvia Lanka Foundation from North West London, that takes equipment to hospitals in Sri Lanka. They had acquired a warehouse I think around the summertime of this year, after they’d started working with us via Globechain (they actually asked me to attend their opening ceremony over in North West London over in Hillingdon Way as Barts Health representative in the summer as a thank you). They managed to take the vast majority of all these drip stands and we saved the Trust the money it was costing to keep that stuff in storage space. So thank you very much, SLF! They’re a brilliant bunch of people to work with - I'm kind of telling a long story about one charity, but there's quite a few charities like them doing great things.


Watch the Sylvia Lanka Foundation's video below for more about their work with Barts Health's donations:

“I don't know how many Nightingale hospitals were set up in the UK, but they would have had similar problems like that and what the hell did they do with their redundant stock? It just shows you how big an impact my team can have with our links and outlets, to be able to turn what potentially someone would easily quite easily call “disposable” or “waste” into something that actually is not waste at all. It's a commodity. It's something to be reused. It's something to stop that madness of waste.  


Crowning Glory

“So let's move onto Crown Workspace. This is kind of indirectly related to Globechain because some of the stuff that ultimately ends up in our waste yards can be reused, but it just takes a little bit of work on our part to see whether or not we can actually reuse it back within our hospitals.

“So around the time that we engaged with May from Globechain, we were looking at our bulk waste containers. There were a hell of a lot of things being thrown away then that we're now putting on to Globechain and giving away. Turning the clock back 6-7 years ago... Some of the stuff that was going into our waste containers... we were just thinking, “that shouldnt be there!” So for instance... a foot-pedal bin that suddenly got a nut and bolt that'd come loose stopping the lid from slamming would end up in our waste containers. We started to look at stuff like that. Well, it's only a nut and bolt - so we shouldn’t be throwing them away! There  are easy solutions to actually give items like that a new lease of life and if it only takes a nut and a bolt, then let's give it another three years of life. Let's stop throwing them away.

“The vast majority of the things that we could potentially get repaired, but we didn't have the facility to do it ourselves, was furnishings; so we're talking desks, chairs, examination couches, etc. These things were being thrown away like sweets in the bulk waste containers. Office swivel chairs get used regularly by members of staff and the fabric gets torn, or in a clinical area if Infection control see something's got a tear in it, that’s a breach. It potentially has a an impact on infection, and they'll tell the nurse lead “that's a risk. Get rid of it“.  


“So we were looking at these chairs are thinking ”what can we do?”, when we were contacted by Premier Sustain (Crown Workspace's old name), a local company with a big facility over in Edmonton which is north London - five miles from Whipps Cross and within a 15 mile radius of all of our hospital sites. They came to us and said, “we've been renovating office furnishings for local authorities and the Metropolitan Police for a number of years and we’ve done it at a fraction of the cost of buying new.”

“So we gave them a bit of a challenge. We said “right, well come along to one of our hospital sites. Draw out some of the furnishings you think you can refurbish, repair, or renovate from some of our bulk waste containers, have a go at it, and bring us back the finished product and and we’ll have a look and decide whether or not we could potentially be working together as a partnership”. So that's what they did! They pulled out a high back patient chair, one you typically find on one of our wards, they pulled out an office swivel chair and they pulled out a bench seating arrangement (like you see in the hospitals when you're sitting in outpatient areas). They brought this stuff back, and they’d renovated it and more: They looked brand new. And it’s not just renovation or repair or placement they do, but they actually have the statistical data to prove to us how much carbon saving we will make through the renovation and refurbishment, rather than buying brand new and throwing away. There is reuse versus buying new. It's as simple as that. It's carbon data.


Go Swivel!

“To buy something new has got inbuilt carbon-heavy costs: production, energy, people, transport etc. If you localise this and just do a general repair, it’s greening it all up - because they're local they're not traveling hundreds of miles up and down the bloody motorway and roads, delivering new stuff. They’re just repairing things five miles away, and bringing them back. Now I get emails from staff saying “have you got an office swivel chair?” and if we don’t have one of these reconditioned chairs immediately to-hand they go on a waiting list. We've slowed down the aspect of departments going directly to procurement and buying replacement gear.


“We fund all this directly out of the waste budget. So in actual fact, we're paying for that renovation aspect of office furnishings.
But in the great big global aspect of the Trust’s money and spend, procurement are saving on buying new furnishings because we're slowing it down at our end by actually giving them chairs back to departmental areas. Whether that be the staff, public areas, if it's bench seating arrangements, or in ward areas like patients high backed chairs. This is the cost/benefit, analysis and how good it gets: We take the hit... but we DON’T take the hit because what we're doing here is saving on the amount of bulk waste container lifts that happen week-in week-out at our hospitals; we’re slowing that element down.  


“So for example, in a typical waste container you can throw in there about 20 chairs - and you won't get any more in it because they all get kind of intermingled. There's no more space left in it, so the majority of that bulk waste container is full of fresh air plus 20 chairs. So that’d get lifted at a cost of £500 and gets disposed-of with 20 chairs in it.  But now instead we are pulling out the walking frames and putting them on Globechain, and we are pulling out other stuff and giving them to charities on Globechain, we are pulling out the furnishings we can repair and giving them back to Crown Workspace to renovate, repair or offer refurbish.  


Must save the Trust loads of money, no?


“At the Royal London  we might be lifting our bulk waste container once a week. If that costs £500 and we do 50 lifts a year at RLH, that’s £25,000 a year, right? If we can slow that down to once every two weeks by taking stuff out of it like furnishings and stuff for Globechain, we're spending less. You can now see that we’re cost neutralising it for the waste budget. But it doesn't really matter that it's coming out of our budget because we've proved that actually it's costing us no more to do. It’s taking road miles off the road and it's greening it all up. There’s more to the story than just cost; and that's sustainability in a nutshell, you know: it's not just about saving money.


“Crown Workspace, also do job-lots. So companies will come to them and say, “we want to clear out this big building but we haven't got the money to clear it out, so you do it and you can have everything inside it that you can reuse if you keep our costs down to clear the building.” Crown physically go into buildings and they will literally take away stuff like office desks and office chairs and make money out of it because there's nothing wrong with the office desks and office chairs, they then upload it to their web based platform and they sell it to whoever wants to buy it. It's second hand, but it's good second hand. So they're in that game as well. You know they're quite green as a company in themselves, and I think they even work with the Welsh Government where they actually furnish some of their public offices in Wales with good secondhand furnishing stock, rather than buying new. So they're pretty good as a green company themselves.


“We've carried on working with them and we've given away in five years over 3000 items of furnishings back to staff, patient areas and public areas! And the stuff looks fantastic, you wouldn't know that it's not new. Some staff when they get to find out about this, they actually don't want to buy new, they don't want to go to procurement; firstly because they're not going to pay for it at all, and then secondly because Crown Workspace will deliver it direct to their office! There there will be a lot of departments in clinical areas that always say they've got no budget to spend on furnishings. So we try and help out where best we can.  


“I'll give you some examples of the stuff we had been throwing away before we got into the game: the high-end patient seating that's in the public areas at RLH looks like something out of an airport waiting area; they look pretty damn good, kind of futuristic, they've got aluminium frames and wipe-clean vinyl, padded seating arrangements and the rest. These bench seating pads started to get ripped when they’d been used a while, the arms started to come loose and fall off... and lots were thrown away before we got to them! We  went to Crown and got the costings back and average cost of a renovation of one of those bench seating arrangements is under 10% of the cost of buying a new replacement!



“Yes. Crown can renovate and recover an office swivel chair, and sew fabric back new and safely for about a third of the price! So you're getting-on for something just below half or nearly a third of the cost of buying new. Plus, you're giving it a new lease of life AND you're keeping it local AND there's not massive production costs through buying new and transporting it for hundreds of miles... So you can now see the whole concept of greening up waste.

“It's a resource and it's bigger than a resource, its carbon heavy, and if you can chip away at it and do other things, you really green it all up. So we're already there. We could do huge amounts more and we've got huge amounts more that we need to do. But you know, you can crack it. You know you can. You can help to stop bad habits, and start changing things: if the mindset’s not there, it ain't gonna happen, but we can change the mindset!”


It’s that mindset that got Neil and team their HSJ award in 2019:

Award winners (l-r): Neil Allen (Barts Health NHS Trust Waste Manager), Liam Hogg (Skanska Head of Waste), Katerina Tzafilkou (Skanska Graduate Waste Manager), Karen Hogg (MD Sust-N Ltd - Skanska's behavioural change partner) and Rob Speight (Barts Health NHS Trust Associate Director of Estates).

Info on correct bin sorting




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