Recycling unit answers the covid mask mountain problem

It’s a problem across the UK and the world; as the pandemic has grown, so has the use of disposable surgical face masks. At the Royal Cornwall Hospitals in Cornwall staff and patients have been using up to 10,000 masks a day – compared to around 300 per day in 2019 – all destined for incineration.

Care Group Manager Roz Davies next to the mask recycling unit

Having joined our health and care partners across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in declaring a Climate Emergency shortly before the coronavirus pandemic set in, RCHT Care Group General Manager and avid environmental champion, Roz Davies, has been determined to find a solution.

Working with recycling machinery manufacturer, Thermal Compaction Group (TCG), the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust is believed to be the first in the UK to be sustainably recycling surgical masks.

“We hope this will be a real game changer in the way tackle single use PPE, not only for us here in Cornwall but across the UK and beyond,” says Roz. “The use of masks has grown extraordinarily this year but now we have the option to recycle them, as well as other items such as theatre wraps and gowns that would previously have been transported out of Cornwall for specialist incineration.”

The Sterimelt technology melts single-use polypropylene plastics. These blocks are then later converted into new products such as bottles, bins and toolboxes, beginning a cycle of continual reprocessing, a circular economy.

SSD Operations Manager Jane Ham with a recycled plastic block

Matthew Rapson from TCG said,

“The Sterimelt unit turns your waste into a commodity. By reducing waste, it reduces the carbon footprint, meaning less lorries on site and transportation, creating a cleaner, greener future for the NHS.”

The mask recycling scheme is being piloted in three areas at the Royal Cornwall Hospital to get staff used to segregating masks from other clinical waste, to decide on the most efficient method before rolling it out right across the Trust’s three hospitals in Truro, Hayle and Penzance.

Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust Director of Strategy and Performance, Thom Lafferty adds, “The need to address climate change has unified all health commissioners and providers in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. We want everyone to work together to make sure that sustainability is at the centre of health care in Cornwall and it’s great to see our hospitals leading the way.”

The Trust has made a short video to show the recycling unit in action: https://youtu.be/2WomlKQNBgY

Added on December 17, 2020, in News - Trust Improvement