NHS Cheshire and Merseyside supports Earth Day 2024 ‘planet vs plastics’ initiative


By Mandi Cragg, Sustainability Programme Manager, NHS Cheshire and Merseyside

Earth Day takes place every year on 22 April and seeks to raise awareness of the environmental problems our planet is facing and promote efforts to tackle them.

This year’s theme is ‘planet vs plastics’, and calls on individuals, businesses and governments to unite in combating plastic pollution and protecting our health.

Globally the production of plastic has soared from 1.5 million metric tons in the 1950’s to 200 million metric tons by 2002, with 2022 figures rising to a staggering 400.3 million metric tons.  

But this long-lasting wonder material is not as fantastic as first imagined. Single-use plastics are choking our seas, impacting our health and damaging the environment and, because of the longevity of plastic, every single piece of plastic ever produced still exists today in some form.

In the UK we throw out 1.7 billion pieces of plastic per week and only 17% of this is recycled. A huge 58% is incinerated, and the remainder ends up in waste exports, landfill and in our rivers and oceans.


Microplastics are fragments of any type of plastic less than 5mm in length and are either produced intentionally for use in products such as nappies, cosmetics, toothpaste, paint and so on (the list is almost endless) or are produced via degradation (larger plastics naturally breaking down), or by wear and tear such as debris from car tyres. Once in the environment they are almost impossible to get rid of and scientists have found them in the ocean, in Arctic sea ice, in drinking water, food, in animals and marine life, the air and breast milk. Indeed, it has been estimated that we eat, drink, and breathe 5g of microplastic every week – the weight of a credit card.


The NHS is the largest user of single-use plastics in Europe, with services across the NHS in England using more than 600 million disposable cups and millions of disposable cutlery pieces as well as other avoidable single-use clinical and non-clinical plastic items between 2013-2018. In 2020 almost one quarter of the NHS’ waste in England and Wales was plastic.

What are we doing nationally?

In 2019 the NHS Long Term Plan called for a reduction in single-use plastics throughout the NHS supply chain and asked providers, retailers, and suppliers to the NHS to sign up to a plastics reduction pledge where signatories committed to:

  • By April 2020, no longer purchase single-use plastic stirrers and straws, except where a person has a specific need, in line with the government consultation
  • By April 2021, no longer purchase single-use plastic cutlery, plates or single-use cups made of expanded polystyrene or oxo-degradable plastics
  • By April 2021, go beyond these commitments in reducing single-use plastic food containers and other plastic cups for beverages – including covers and lids
  • Charing Cross Hospital reduced unnecessary cannulation by 25% in their A&E department, saving 19,000 kgCO2e and £95,000.
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital reduced use of plastic gloves saving 21,000 kgCO2e and £90,000.

What are we doing locally?

  • In April 2021 Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital commenced using reusable theatre gowns, saving 23,520kg CO2e and £22,200 per year.
  • In May 2021, Liverpool University Hospitals anaesthetists at the Royal and Broadgreen made a swap from disposable plastic caps to reusable fabric caps. The swap has removed 217,000 single-use caps per year and over 1 tonne of clinical waste. It has also provided a cost saving of £86,000 over a 4-year period.
  • Trusts across C&M have eliminated the use of plastic stirrers and reduced the use of plastic cutlery by over 60% since 2019.
  • Several C&M Trusts are currently involved in schemes to reduce the use of plastic gloves.
  • A Waste sub-group of the C&M Sustainability Board has been convened to identify further opportunities to eliminate single use plastics across clinical and non-clinical applications.

What can you do about it?

There are lots of things you can do to reduce your single-use plastic consumption, and in most cases, you’ll also save money! Here are some easy plastic swaps:

Swap this…

…for this

One water bottle takes around 450 years to break down in landfill…

Choose a BPA-free option – there are lots on the market with prices to suit all budgets!


Plastic wrap takes hundreds of years to decompose in landfill, turning into microplastics when it breaks down. If incinerated PVC/ PVDC can release dioxins.

Reusable beeswax wrap, Tupperware, ceramic and glass containers are all good alternatives (or just pop a plate over a bowl the old-fashioned way!)

Currently only 19% of fruit and veg are sold loose in supermarkets in the UK …  

Buy loose where you can

552 million empty shampoo bottles are thrown away every year in the UK and end up in landfill…

Shampoo and conditioner bars save water, are easy to store, perfect for travelling and totally plastic-free!

Content provided by NHS Cheshire and Merseyside.

Published on Mon, 22 Apr 2024 14:09:37 GMT
Modified on Mon, 15 Jul 2024 06:57:28 GMT