The Clean Technology Centre has managed the Green Healthcare Programme since its inception in 2009.
The delivery of healthcare services in Ireland has, due to its nature and scale, a significant environmental impact. This ranges from generation of large volumes of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste, to the use and discharge of several million cubic metres of water per year. As a case in point, the HSE is one of Irish Water’s largest clients in terms of water use. The provision of healthcare also involves the consumption of significant volumes of materials and resources, as well as energy, with the concomitant contribution of these to carbon emissions. In recognition of this the HSE established the National Health Sustainability Office (NHSO) in 2013 and subsequently developed, and implemented, the Sustainability Strategy for Health 2017 – 2019.
The Green Healthcare programme is funded by the HSE (HBS) Estates and is run by the National Health Sustainability Office. Phase 2 of the programme commenced in Spring 2020.
The programme’s aims are to help prevent waste (including food, general and clinical waste), to increase recycling, and to reduce water consumption in Irish Hospitals. Since 2009, the programme has provided direct advice and assistance to many Irish healthcare facilities that joined the programme, including on-site surveys, benchmarking, water sub-metering, training and customised advice – much of which is provided by CTC.
Facilities comprising 50% of acute beds in Ireland have been surveyed by CTC, including 25 acute hospitals and 12 community nursing units. In all, 110 detailed waste surveys were undertaken.
In addition, CTC, with support from the programme, has produced and disseminated many publications and guidance on several areas including best practices in relation to water and waste, benchmarks for water and waste, factsheets, posters, and case studies of Irish healthcare facilities.
The Green Healthcare programme was originally started to try to get a better understanding of the amounts and types of waste streams in hospitals in Ireland. The goal of gathering this information was to assess the potential for reduction or prevention of such wastes, as well as increasing recycling rates, and reducing costs through better management. The programme evolved with a particular focus on food waste in the sector – carrying out a significant number of surveys directly in kitchens and wards to determine the potential for cost savings through reductions in food waste. The programme later expanded its focus to look at water use and the potential for water conservation measures within the sector.
Phase 1 of the Green Healthcare programme identified that food waste is costing the HSE of the order of €11 million per year across all acute hospitals and community nursing units. CTC also identified another potential savings across all of the HSE of up to €1.3 million per year if materials that are not healthcare risk waste were not placed in the risk waste stream. These potential savings accrue from the fact that healthcare risk waste is the most expensive waste stream to be handled in terms of costs per tonne. Increasing recycling has less of a significant financial benefit compared to reducing food waste or healthcare risk waste, though it does still have a positive financial outcome, albeit more modest.
CTC, the HSE’s National Health Sustainability Office and the programme are working hard to reduce the environmental impact of healthcare in Ireland and to save money for the sector.
The programme was originally initiated under the EPA’s National Waste Prevention Programme (NWPP). That first phase, which was co-funded by the HSE for much of its duration, ran from 2009 to 2019.