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The rise of reusables for the UK’s NHS

Whole system solutions the key to the adoption of medical textiles with close-to-home manufacturing partners.

9th August 2023

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Alton, Hampshire, UK

Medical/Hygiene, Sustainable

Around 88,000 tons of single-use plastic waste – largely based on nonwovens and films – is now generated by the UK’s NHS (National Health Sevice) each year, and Alton, Hampshire-headquartered Revolution-Zero is on a mission to do something about it.

As part of its ongoing work with NHS England, NHS Wales and regional healthcare organisations across the UK, the company has recently installed the first Zero-Decon advanced laundry system for orthopaedic theatres at St Michael’s Hospital in Hayle, Cornwall.

Revolution-Zero is also supplying it with locally sourced resuable facemasks, surgical gowns, operating theatre drapes and other PPE items.

The 80-square-metre facility integrates modular Net Zero-focused washers, dryers and reporting sensors and is enabled with advanced digital logistics, compliance and monitoring technologies. 

Locally-sourced resuable facemasks, surgical gowns, operating theatre drapes and other PPE items are being supplied to the participating NHS hospitals. © Revolution-Zero

Working with academic partners, Revolution-Zero will continue to develop and deploy new technologies including low temperature decontamination and reusable sterile packaging systems as a natural extension of its previous and ongoing work with NHS Trusts.

Precious resource

“Plastic is a precious resource, expensive to produce but often treated as worthless and and discarded as waste and this is especially the case in the healthcare sector,” said Dr Tom Dawson, founder of Revolution-Zero and visiting research fellow at Exeter University. “Revolution-Zero was founded in March 2020 in response to coronavirus when we could see all kinds of terrible things happening, with poor supply chain resilience, unethical business practices, variable quality and then really unacceptable costs.”

The NHS went through more than a billion facemasks in 2020, generating some 3.5 million kg of waste and has built up a dependence on a single-use supply chain over the past 30 years that is not only vulnerable, but unnecessarily expensive in both monetary and environmental terms, Dawson observed.

“We are supporting the adoption of reusable medical textiles and our product range continues to grow with close-to-home manufacturing partners of surgical textiles for the Operating Room environment, including customised gowns, and drapes,” he said. “A reusable Type IIR face mask has also been identified that can be decontaminated and is affordable and scalable.”

 The materials are being decontaminated to the latest standards with localised control and monitoring.

“Whole system solutions are critical to enabling multiple cycles of reuse, followed by a repurposing cycle and eventually recycling back to medical textiles,” Dawson said. “The realisation of our first Zero-Decon medical textiles processing unit in Cornwall is a major milestone for us in our drive to displace single-use products from healthcare supplies in the UK through circular economy solutions. We are growing a really great community around our projects within the NHS and uniting with suppliers and environmental groups to really effect positive change.”

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