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Is your care home throwing away money unnecessarily?

by APPR on 14 September 2020
Is your care home throwing away money unnecessarily?

You may be surprised, or worryingly not, to hear that up to 90% of clinical waste and 35% of offensive waste produced in care homes is contaminated with recyclable materials. Big deal! So what, right?

Well, the big deal is that putting recyclables into the most expensive waste stream is costing care homes dearly. The good news is that there are simple solutions that can save your care home thousands of pounds each and every year, at the same time as enabling you to comply with legislation. Graham Flynn, Managing Director of healthcare waste management specialist Anenta explains how.

So, what does it cost your care home to be non-waste compliant? What’s the impact on your staff? How is it affecting your bottom line? Are you meeting regulatory requirements? And what’s the consequence of a poor waste management policy on your waste collection providers? These may well be questions that you’ve not considered too deeply given the pressures of running a care home, but I’m willing to wager that’s all about to change.

Here are a few facts that should make you sit up and think. If you’re not waste compliant – and by that I mean your staff either don’t understand what waste should go into which waste stream, or worse, they don’t care – you could be paying £650-£850 per tonne for waste collection when you could be paying £150-£300 per tonne. That’s an eye-watering difference, right?

It’s a stark example, but if you find that your staff put items into orange clinical waste bags, which should go into other more cost-effective waste streams, that’s exactly what it could be costing you. Items that are not recyclable, which could go into domestic waste, or items that should be in the offensive waste stream - such as heavy incontinent pads - are all too frequently found in the wrong waste stream.

Having proper segregation of waste matters; and not just in terms of cost. Covid-19 has put the subject of proper waste management processes into sharp relief. It’s also led to an accentuation of the problem as items that can and should go into different streams wind up in orange waste bags due to confusion or concern about potential coronavirus contamination.

There’s no doubt about it. Having an ambiguous waste policy is costly on many levels. Audits regularly show that 70% of waste is consistently put in the wrong waste channels within the care home sector. Now, while that might not be costing you £850 per tonne, it will be costing you. The question is how much?

So, what’s the answer to this thorny issue? If you don’t have proper training and a consistent waste management policy in place, nine times out of ten, you’ll find that staff put waste into the closest waste bin to them to save time. If that happens to be the offensive waste bag, that will be costing you £300-£500 per tonne. Granted, that’s not as bad as heavy offensive waste going into clinical waste bags, but it’s still the equivalent of sand through your fingers, and expensive sand at that.

The other way to look at this is that if the 70% of incorrect items were placed in the correct steams, you’ll be making a 70% saving on what your inefficient waste disposal footprint is currently costing you.

To overcome this issue, you first need to understand just how bad the problem is in your care home or care home group. Undertaking an independent audit will help you establish that. It should cover analysis of policies, training and compliance with legislation, and include compositional analysis of waste in a series of spot-checks. To ensure consistency of approach, especially where multiple care homes in different geographic locations are concerned, it should also be undertaken by the same auditor.

Based on feedback from the audits, you can start to resolve many issues at hand. It’s the first step on the path to ensuring that you have a good waste management process in place. It’s a process that will facilitate improvements that are helpful both to the business and to your staff. It will also enable consistency of approach, aiding training, making colleague’s lives easier.

The other benefit of an audit is that it will enable you as a business to understand your waste profile more accurately, and that is the key to procuring cost-effective and appropriate waste contracts. That alone could save you thousands of pounds each year. Without this information, even the very best procurement officer can only procure the lowest headline costs for you. That might generate a cost-saving in the short term, but if the contract fails to reflect your actual waste profile, you can be sure you won’t be getting the best deal.

And, if you fail to change behaviour through training, you could easily find yourself paying through the nose for a ‘cheap’ headline contract where cross-contamination penalty charges are punitive.

Conducting audits properly and consistently will inform your waste management policy development, as well as your procurement specification. It will allow you to develop clear statements enabling staff to be trained quickly and easily – which is key in a sector where staff turnover tends to be high. It will also help with the development of protocol, such as guidance and signage of waste streams to avoid costly, unnecessary and avoidable waste cross-contamination.

But it goes deeper than that. An independent audit will also enable you to understand your waste management responsibilities as a business. Like any other healthcare provider, care homes need to comply with the management of healthcare waste in accordance with the Health Technical Memorandum 0701 (HTM 0701).

Sitting above this is the Environmental Protection Act 1990, setting out Controlled Waste Regulations and Duty of Care Regulations, as well as a long list of other statutory instruments. Within this, there are duties that you as a waste producer need to comply with; a significant one being the pre-acceptance audit.

Effectively, this is a bill of health for your waste contractor, confirming that the waste and quantities of waste produced are managed in accordance with the law and is waste that your contractor is allowed to dispose of. Without this in place, your waste contractor cannot legally accept waste as they would be in breach of their environmental permit. Your audit, and subsequent policy and process development should help to facilitate this.

The big news on the horizon in this respect is that Environment Permit Regulations are undergoing review, and that could mean more stringent rules for the care home sector, enabling the Environment Agency to monitor performance in greater detail, including the ability to track waste from source, all the way through to disposal. If this is put into place, audits will not only be desirable, but essential.

The big question here, is how many care home managers, owners and groups fully understand their responsibilities, are ready for this potential change and have the expertise to deal with it? If the answer to that question is an uncomfortable one, seeking guidance and help from an independent healthcare waste management expert could relieve a lot of stress, and cost. When you consider that the average care home is wasting £8,000 every year through poor waste management process and procurement, seeking outside expertise suddenly starts to make sense.

But it’s not the only thing that you can do. For those enlightened care home groups or private owners, one of the simplest ways to slash costs is to come together to form a care home service buying cooperative.

By adopting one procurement process for the cooperative, you can create significant economies of scale. You also enable waste disposal businesses to return savings resulting from multiple pick-ups on one collection run. That’s good for you and the environment too. Paired with accurate audits that would need to be in place across the cooperative, you can specify precisely, have consistent and efficient waste policies in place and, with the aid of an intermediary waste management professional, strike the best and most appropriate deal for all.