The Impact of Paper Procurement in the NHS

Natalie Roddis's picture

As many NHS professionals will be aware the NHS has committed to reduce its carbon footprint in line with the Climate Change Act (2008) but, aside from ensuring that legislative targets are reached, the benefits of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions are well documented. Yet the NHS faces increasing financial and service pressures; meaning that ‘green’ working is not always at the forefront of consideration. 

Many NHS organisations in England procure paper through the NHS Supply Chain Core Stationary list, which only contains paper produced from virgin (non-recycled) sources. As such, out of the 3.6 million reams of paper procured through NHS Supply Chain, only 29,000 were produced from recycled sources:

  • 100% Post-Recycled Paper – 19,000 reams
  • 75% Post-Recycled Paper – 10,000 reams
  • Virgin Paper – 3.571 million reams

The manufacture of the paper procured through NHS Supply Chain in 2016/17 is estimated to have produced the equivalent of 29,062 tonnes of CO2, compared to around 15,840 tonnes had all paper procured been from 100% recycled sources (table 1 of the attached).

Unfortunately, as NHS organisations are facing financial strain, the commercial argument for the procurement of virgin opposed to recycled paper outweighs the NHS’ corporate responsibility to reduce its environmental impact. Price comparisons undertaken through NHS Supply Chain indicate that recycled paper is around 215% more expensive than virgin equivalents. A key driver behind the high price of recycled paper is low customer demand; suppliers will be in a better position to reduce the price of their recycled products should more NHS organisations purchase them. Thus, the NHS and paper suppliers are in a ‘catch 22’ situation – NHS organisations will not procure recycled paper because it is too expensive, whilst suppliers will not lower the price of recycled paper because consumption is too low.

The NHS (and those providing paper to the NHS) have a great opportunity to become exemplars for environmental protection and climate change mitigation, by reducing the quantity of virgin paper consumed. Given the proven health impacts of climate change, is it not part of the NHS’ corporate and moral responsibility to collaborate with paper companies to increase the consumption of recycled, opposed to virgin, paper? At least until the NHS is in a position to become truly-paperless.

It is my hope that, in making my healthcare colleagues aware of the hugely significant numbers mentioned above, awareness of this issue will be raised. The ‘How to Buy Paper a Low Carbon Way’ tool is available on the NHS Sustainable Development Unit website, should you wish to establish the impact of the paper procured by your organisation.

Thank you to the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and NHS Supply Chain for their respective assistance with the ‘NHS SDU how to buy paper a low carbon way’ tool and paper procurement information. 

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