We must not let our reliance on single-use plastic in healthcare become the “new normal” or set-back the strides taken prior to the covid-19 pandemic to address the primary existential crisis concerning our environment.

The covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the huge material footprint required to support frontline healthcare in the NHS. The NHS contributes 5.4% to the UK’s climate footprint. [1] Pre-covid, the NHS had made great strides in tackling waste and contributing to its goal of a net-zero future. In 2019, the NHS had achieved an estimated 62% reduction in its 1990 emission levels. [2]

However, six months after the initial outbreak of covid-19, the UK government had procured 32 billion items of personal protective equipment (PPE) worth £12.5 billion. [3] Between February 2020 and February 2021, the NHS used more than 1 billion surgical masks. [4] This would generate nearly 3 million kilograms of waste according to a recently published study, which estimated that 123,000 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic waste would be generated in a year if every person in the UK used one disposable surgical mask per day. [5] . . .

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