Shetland Islands Council is incinerating hundreds of tons of NHS clinical waste from health boards across Scotland – including the Highland and Grampian – to help ease a national backlog.
The authority not only earns £144 per ton of waste processed – generating more than £35,000 in the last month – but it also goes through their waste-to-energy plant in Lerwick – providing hot water for the town’s district heating scheme.
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A spokeswoman for the council said: “Since mid-December NHS Grampian, NHS Highland, NHS Orkney, NHS Tayside have all produced 62 loads of clinical waste, totalling 269 tons.”
“The quantity disposed of to date amounts to less than 10% (by weight) of the total waste incinerated, and is ‘orange bag’ waste, consisting of soiled dressings, swabs, disposables, etc.”
The win-win situation for the council comes as a result of the collapse of clinical waste firm Healthcare Environmental Services based in Lanarkshire.
Health boards across the country terminated contracts with the firm amid concerns over the capability of it to conduct disposal works, and eventually it folded – at a cost of hundreds of jobs.
SIC officers were aware of the impending national waste problem and successfully applied for a permit variation from environment regulator SEPA to take in ‘orange bag’ clinical waste and increase quantities.
It has been taking low-grade NHS waste such as dressings, plastic aprons and used latex gloves from Scottish health boards since mid-December
In December councillors approved new income charges for the energy recovery plant, including a fee for processing ‘difficult waste’ such as NHS clinical waste, which amounts to nearly £144 per tonne.
Chairman of the SIC’s environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson said taking in the extra waste from other health boards has already generated around £35,000 in new revenue for the council.
He said: “The SIC and NHS Scotland and SEPA have been in discussions and have reached an agreement to dispose of low-risk clinical waste from the NHS sites right across the country as part of a national contingency plan.
“The total quantity disposed of so far has yielded a gate fee income of around £35,000. The process began around the middle of December.”
An NHS Highland spokesman confirmed: “NHS Highland is transporting low-risk clinical waste to an energy-from-waste incinerator in Shetland as per national contingency plans.”