Colten Care has become the first major provider in the UK’s private care home sector to begin a group-wide reduction of single-use plastic.
The family-owned operator, which has 20 care homes in Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Sussex, is aiming to cut avoidable plastic waste across all its departments.
Residents, families and team members have all fed in ideas on how to eliminate non-recyclables and replace them with environmentally friendly alternatives.
The move is significant given the sector’s traditionally high use of plastic in clinical services, person-centred care and infection control.
“But we are going even further and targeting plastic consumption in everything we do,” said Tim Wookey Colten Care’s Director of Marketing and Companionship. “That means all our supplier relationships for the materials and packaging involved in catering, gardening, waste handling, laundry services, repairs and maintenance, and administration. This is an across-the-board, one-team commitment to get rid of all unnecessary plastic.”
The ‘Caring, without plastic’ campaign began at Colten’s Abbey View home in Sherborne, Dorset, where a dedicated residents-and-staff committee has been set up to put forward ideas to champion the environment.
At a kick-off meeting residents including a former domestic science teacher and a dairy manager reflected on life before plastic was so common.
Points raised included the benefits of reusable glass milk bottles and putting plates over spare food for pantry storage rather than plastic containers.
One of the first projects at Abbey View has been to cut the large number of plastic bags used for removing rubbish and waste.
Previously, housekeeping staff re-supplied a plastic liner every day for the bin in each of the 52 residents’ en suite rooms.
Now, instead of using a bin bag, waste is removed into a trolley container on the rounds and the individual bin is cleaned out there and then as part of infection control. The home estimates this will save nearly 19,000 bags from landfill per year.
The trial has been so successful, the same approach is being rolled out for the 1,000 bedrooms across Colten’s 20 homes, offering the potential to avoid 365,000 bags a year.
An anti-bacterial ‘magic water’ dispenser is also being adopted to cut down on the number of bottles of cleaning liquid being used. This is expected to see 19,000 fewer plastic bottles used per year when the roll-out is complete across all homes. The cartridges that produce the magic water will be collected by a supplier and reused.
On the nutrition side, nursing home residents tend to use a large number of drinking straws, for example when taking dietary supplements such as protein-rich smoothies.
Colten Care has removed all single-use plastic straws from its catering services, replacing them with ones that are fully biodegradable. This will remove around 480,000 pieces of plastic a year.
Other initiatives include replacing disposable plastic water cups by water coolers with recyclable paper ones, changing the coffee supply packaging used in foyer coffee machines to a non-plastic alternative and laundry staff replacing disposable latex gloves with washable, re-usable ones.
Colten laundry staff had already begun cutting out plastic by replacing plastic bags for soiled linen with a safe, reusable product that lasts for up to five years. This has saved an estimated one million plastic bags from going to landfill since 2011.
Colten Care’s gardening team have also written to their suppliers to request support on a reduction in plastic plant pots and packaging materials.
Explaining the rationale for the ‘Caring, without plastic’ campaign, Tim Wookey said: “Our residents have exactly the same environmental concerns as their families, our staff and suppliers, and everyone else. The truth is that more and more people are becoming aware of the terrible global problems created by the rapidly-increasing consumption of plastic. We feel that now is the time to make radical changes within our business to be part of a solution that improves the communities in which we operate. We want all our suppliers to commit to supporting us. It’s all about leading the way and making a positive difference.”