Tackling Single-Use plastics in Healthcare

Sara Jones (Medicine) discusses her project on the impacts of COVID-19 on the use of disposables in Medicine and Healthcare programmes at the University of Leeds.

What is your favourite thing about the University of Leeds?

My favourite thing about Leeds is the tight-knit student community and abundance of societies within the Union. Fruity Friday was another highlight, prior to the pandemic of course.

What was your research project about?

My research project was about sustainability within the medicine and healthcare programmes at the university, particularly on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the consumption of disposables.

I was fortunate enough to conduct interviews (arranged by our amazing project leader Kelly), with several NHS sustainability professionals, and some of the university sustainability team.

Through these interviews, I learnt about the Yorkshire Ambulance Service reusable mask trials, and the difficulties they face in promoting the use of reusable masks in hospitals. I found this particularly interesting, as single-use PPE (personal protective equipment) consumption has significantly increased during the pandemic, and this demonstrates a potential solution to a proportion of the single-use plastic issue.

Where did your interest in sustainability stem from?

I have had an interest in sustainability from a young age. Coming from a rural area in Wales I have always been able to appreciate nature. I have been taught that human well-being depends on the natural environment, and it is incredibly important for us to look after the environment and act sustainably in our lives, otherwise, we will no longer be able to benefit from nature in the future as its sources are finite.

I further explored my interest during my A level in geography, where I based my coursework study on the levels of plastic pollution around the beaches of North Wales. I found copious amounts of plastic litter and microplastics on these beaches, which I was disappointed to find. Learning about the effect of these microplastics and on the environment and human health concerned me and made me want something to be done urgently about the situation. This sparked my interest in the effect of plastics on the environment.

What are you most enjoying about your research project?

I am enjoying learning about recent developments in introducing and improving sustainability in healthcare. This excites me as it shows that there are enthusiastic people like me out there who are trying to make changes for good to help the environment. This has also made me feel like my work is part of something bigger and may be valuable in helping improve the situation for the first time in my medical career.

Why did you choose this research project?

I chose this project as I am already interested in environmental sustainability and was interested in investigating how sustainability was being addressed within the NHS. While learning clinical skills I was astounded by the sheer amount of single-use plastic which is consumed doing something as simple as taking a blood sample, and therefore was eager to see if there were any more sustainable alternatives out there being developed.

How has the Sustainability Service supported you with your project?

Kelly has been of massive help to me and my research partner during this project. She has been enthusiastic and very helpful in answered our queries and given very valuable feedback on work we were uncertain on. She also kindly arranged all our interviews with experts in this field, something which I appreciate could be very difficult in these busy and difficult times.

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United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to guide our activity. Sara’s RESS Special Studies Sustainability Project is linked to the following SDGs:

      • Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing
      • Goal 4:  Quality Education
      • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
      • Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
      • Goal 13: Climate Action

Find out more about our impact on the SDGs.