NHS use of disposable cups is out of control, says Greenpeace

The NHS in England has purchased more than half a billion disposable cups over the past five years, new figures show

The NHS in England has purchased more than half a billion disposable cups over the past five years, new figures show

Picture: Press Association

Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests by the Press Association show that, since 2013, NHS trusts in England have purchased more than 600 million disposable cups.

One London trust, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, purchased almost 30 million cups over a five-year period, with 6.25 million purchased in one year alone.

The news comes amid rising concern over the environmental impact of single-use throwaway items.

Responses from 174 NHS acute, mental health and community trusts show that they had purchased 609.8 million disposable cups over the past five years –the equivalent of more than 334,000 per day.

Based on the latest population estimates, this is the equivalent of 11 disposable cups for every person living in England.

Hard to recycle

Greenpeace UK said the figures demonstrate ‘just how out of control our relationship with single-use plastic has become’.

The figures show that, over five years, 14 trusts purchased more than 10 million cups each, with some reaching this figure in four years or less.

While some disposable cups can be readily recycled, others, such as plastic-lined or polystyrene coffee cups, are considerably harder to recycle.

Earlier this year, England's chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies called on the NHS, as one of the world's largest employers, to reduce its pollutant footprint.

Some hospitals have reintroduced china cups in their wards to reduce the number of disposable cups, while others have pledged to reduce significantly their use of single use plastic and paper cups.

Lack of information

The news comes as it was revealed that many government departments cannot provide information on the number of disposable cups they purchase.

Of 20 Whitehall departments contacted by the Press Association, only seven gave any information about the numbers of disposable cups they purchased over the past five years.

A government spokesperson said that it is committed to reducing its own use of single-use plastics, but the official response did not address the figures highlighted across the NHS in England.

Commenting on the figures, Greenpeace UK senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said: ‘We all know we’re using far too much throwaway plastic, but these huge figures demonstrate just how out of control our relationship with single-use plastic has become.

‘In the past five years ,the health service has used half a billion disposable cups . They can’t all be captured and recycled, so it’s time for the government to step in and help suppliers find viable solutions.’


Commons' science and technology committee chair Norman Lamb, a former health minister said: ‘Just like the rest of us, NHS leaders should crack down on these wasteful purchases by encouraging the use of reusable cups wherever possible.’

A Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said: ‘Guy’s and St Thomas’ is one of the biggest trusts in the country and includes a large dental hospital where a high number of plastic cups are used in a clinical setting.

‘The figures provided also include all disposable cups used and sold in the trust's many catering outlets.

‘As an organisation, we are committed to providing the most sustainable healthcare services possible. We have a number of initiatives which aim to reduce the number of disposable cups that we use.’

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