Publish date: 30 September 2021

Northumbria Healthcare underlines green credentials with mask recycling


Masks worn by staff, patients and visitors at hospitals in Northumberland and North Tyneside are now being recycled, as part of ongoing efforts to reduce environmental impact.

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in the use of disposable face masks across society, not least in healthcare settings, and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is currently using around 70,000 every week.

Masks are a vital measure in ensuring patient and staff safety, but given the Trust’s commitment to environmental sustainability, it was keen to ensure that the greenest approach to their use was taken.

Northumbria Healthcare has therefore joined the first wave of NHS organisations to install a special recycling machine, developed by Cardiff-based company Thermal Compaction Group, which melts the masks down into plastic blocks which can then be used to make new products, such as chairs, kidney trays, bins and other containers.

As well as face masks, the machine, which is located at the Trust’s Manufacturing Hub in Seaton Delaval, also recycles curtains, drapes and wraps, all of which are made from single-use polypropylene plastics.

Dedicated mask bins have been placed in the entrances to hospitals and other sites, with staff and patients disposing of masks when they leave urged to put them in the right bin. People are also asked to ensure that other waste does not go into the mask bins.

National restrictions were eased in July, but in common with other hospitals, GP practices and healthcare settings, Northumbria Healthcare still requires anyone coming in to wear masks, wash their hands and keep their distance.

The Trust’s chief executive, Sir James Mackey, said: “We have been focused on reducing our environmental impact for some time now and the ability for us to recycle face masks and other single-use fabrics is a great example of how we are constantly adapting to operational changes to ensure that Northumbria is as sustainable as it can be.

“As well as the need to play our part in limiting climate change, the environment is one of the six key pillars of Our Community Promise, our new pledge to take action on the wider issues that impact on people’s health and wellbeing. This is because of the clear links between environmental factors, our health and wellbeing, and the inequalities which affect people’s ability to live long, healthy and happy lives.

“Continuing to make in-roads into reducing our carbon emissions and our waste will need concerted effort by the entire Northumbria Healthcare team, so it is pleasing that this initiative has been welcomed by staff, who are always happy to drive forward any new green initiatives.”

Northumbria Healthcare has been focusing on environmental sustainability for some time now, signalling its dedication almost 15 years ago through the appointment of an energy and sustainability officer in 2007.

However, the Trust has recently refreshed its commitment, with Action on Environment being one of the six key pillars of Our Community Promise. This was launched in June just as the NHS published new guidance on developing Green Plans, as part of the national pledge issued last autumn for the health service to become net-zero in terms of carbon emissions by 2040.

Mask recycling is just one of a series of projects taking place across the Trust to reduce carbon emissions and the overall environmental footprint, minimise waste through reuse, recycling and energy production, and introduce and promote green initiatives wherever possible, under the banner of Sustainable Northumbria.

Media contact

Ben O’Connell, media and communications officer

Benjamin.O’Connell@northumbria-healthcare.nhs.ukor 07833 046680.