Face masks made in Dumfries among discarded PPE to be recycled into products for NHS

Face masks produced in Dumfriesshire will be among millions of items of discarded PPE recycled into new products for the NHS.

Alpha Solway, based in Annan, will manufacture new products like medical scrubs in a bid to see fewer items end up in landfill. They are working with a team from Imperial College NHS Trust in London to help bring this project to life.

Experts say it's important to look at how medical institutions reduce their carbon footprint, as around 20,000 tonnes of PPE are distributed by the NHS every year. The majority of which is not recycled.

This new collaboration – which will run for 18 months – will see the two bodies develop a new pilot scheme to explore how to efficiently collect used single-use plastic face masks across the Trust’s five hospital sites.

It will also evaluate the potential for the plastic materials to then be processed and the raw materials recycled and repurposed into new products for use in the NHS.

Pete Lee, Head of Quality and Sustainability at the firm, said when working with a large hospital like Imperial College, the challenge is about getting the PPE back.

"Once we've got that back, we want to recycle it back into other plastic products for the NHS, like disposable syringes and theatre clogs," he said.

They hope it will "massively slash" the amount of plastic the NHS has to use and deliver their net-zero targets.

Alpha Solway say items discarded in hospitals could be recycled into new products for the NHS such as operating theatre clogs, plastic bed pans, medical scrubs and even prosthetic finger joints.

They also hope the "vast majority" of the products they sell in the next couple of years, will be readily recycled into new plastic products or into other forms such as oils.

Lee said: "I'd like to think that all of us in the industry can eliminate the issue of PPE recycling."

The team at Imperial say with increased PPE usage becoming the new normal in hospital settings, following the pandemic, managing waste is a problem that isn't going away.

"We've got to think really hard about how we are able to protect staff with our PPE, and patients and visitors," says Dr Bob Klaber, Director of Strategy, Research & Innovation at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

"We want to think about utilising recycling much better."

They hope through this pioneering partnership, it can be used as a benchmark for other NHS trusts across the country to take recycling and reducing landfill waste seriously.