Most practice recycling focuses on quick wins. Paper and sometimes toner cartridges are recycled because they are easy and straightforward to set up and there is no visible impact on the practice's bottom line.
However, while most practices are just scratching the surface, environmentalists suggest that recycling more can have economic benefits as well helping to save the planet.
The Waste and Resources Action Programme, an independent government-funded body, estimates that for businesses that simply arrange for their waste to be disposed of rather than recycled, the cost of this can be up to 5 per cent of annual turnover.
Reduce The Use, a website with advice on recycling for small businesses, reckons that in 2000 about 80 per cent of waste in business premises could have been recycled, but that 99 per cent ended up in landfill sites.
Dr David Troop, who practises in Arrochar, Argyll and Bute, is probably typical of most UK GPs: 'For about three years we have taken our paper and cardboard to the local dump and anything that is confidential gets shredded and is used for greyhound bedding. That's about it,' he says.
Paper, while it is a quick win ecologically speaking for practices that recycle it, also accounts for the biggest proportion of all office waste.
Practices can maximise their paper recycling efficiency by having a recycling bin in each office area and consulting room, plus separate bins for confidential items. Using both sides will also save paper waste.
Other items that practices can recycle include plastic cups, other types of plastic, food, glass, cans and office equipment (see box). Charities are an obvious starting point for items that might otherwise find themselves in a waste bin or skip.
Equipment they will often accept include printer cartridges, autoclaves, examination couches and surgical instruments. While recycling of instruments is a controversial area, those who do so argue that there are people and countries that are desperate enough to feel that the pros outweigh the cons.
Mobile phones can also be recycled to help a good cause. A handset is worth £5 to Oxfam. Its website offers a 'collection at work' pack, and ActionAid has a freepost option.
Other things to recycle include CDs, batteries and computer equipment.
It should be noted, however, that there are regulations - the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2006 - governing safe recycling of electric and electronic equipment. For more details about WEEE rules go to www.healthcarerepublic.com/green (GP, 4 April).
Dr Neil Paul, who practises in Cheshire, is another GP who would be happy to see more recycling in the practice but lacks the time to devote to changing the surgery's current recycling policies. The practice recycles toner cartridges and paper and has separate bins for confidential and non-confidential paper in administration areas, and bins for confidential paper in consulting rooms.
'To be fair, we could be more religious about recycling paper. We probably do throw away some in the general waste that could be recycled,' he says.
The spur for GPs to be more conscientious recyclers could come from patients.
Dr Paul says that 'although recycling is not at the top of the practice agenda, our patients' panel has talked about looking at our green footprint and maybe they will get us to do more.'
Even the long-serving and most high profile of green GPs, Dr Richard Lawson, admits his former practice in Somerset did little more than Dr Paul's.
Now a salaried GP in Cheshire, Dr Lawson used to be the Green Party's health spokesman. 'At our practice we recycled our paper, and toner cartridges went to charity and our old computers were recycled and I am afraid that was about it,' he says. Dr Lawson argues that the UK economy needs to change if recycling is to become the norm for work and home life.
'Recycling isn't going to come into its own until we have a resource tax which happens at the point where you take a tree out of the forest or oil out of the ground,' explaining that such a tax will put up the price of the virgin materials and creates an economic incentive to do more recycling.
Looking into making your practice more paper light could make some difference.
The charity Envirowise, which advises businesses on how to minimise waste, estimates that UK office workers waste enough printing and writing paper every day to cover a championship golf course more than 300 times.
TURN YOUR PRACTICE WASTE GREEN
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Mobile phones
KEY POINTS: Charities can use these to raise funds. Always remove your
FIND OUT MORE: www.oxfam.org.uk/e-campaigns/office.html
RECYCLING MATERIAL: CDs and CD-ROMs
KEY POINTS: Companies offer 100 per cent recycling of CDs that have
previously ended up in landfill
FIND OUT MORE: www.polymer-reprocessors.co.uk/press.html
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Toner cartridges
KEY POINTS: Refill them or donate them
FIND OUT MORE: www.actionaidrecycling.org.uk/
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Surgical instruments
KEY POINTS: Some surgeries send to third world charities
FIND OUT MORE: www.wrap.org.uk/local_ authorities/batteries/index.html
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Batteries
KEY POINTS: A handful of local authorities run battery recycling schemes
FIND OUT MORE:
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Paper
KEY POINTS: Recycle ordinary and shredded paper and use recycled paper
FIND OUT MORE: -
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Lights
KEY POINTS: Ordinary bulbs are not accepted for recycling but local
authorities can advise how to dispose of fluorescent tubes. Switch to
FIND OUT MORE: www.recyclenow.com/what_ more_can_i_do/can_it_be_
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Aluminium cans
KEY POINTS: Can be recycled or you can make money from Cash for Cans
FIND OUT MORE: www.thinkcans.com/
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Computers
KEY POINTS: Recycle for charity and comply with WEEE Directive
FIND OUT MORE: www.computeraid.org/
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Plastic cups
KEY POINTS: Recycle or switch to a china mug
FIND OUT MORE: www.saveacup.co.uk
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Unused drugs
KEY POINTS: -
FIND OUT MORE: Contact your local pharmacist
RECYCLING MATERIAL: Other
KEY POINTS: Consider offering it to your community through your local
Freecycle recycling group
FIND OUT MORE: www.freecycle.org/
General information and advice:
- www.wrap.org.uk - The Waste and Resources Action Programme helps businesses recycle and reuse
- www.reducetheuse.co.uk - Reduce The Use helps small businesses become environmentally friendly
- www.envirowise.gov.uk - Envirowise offers advice for UK businesses on reducing waste and increasing profits
- www.healthcarerepublic.com/greengp - Visit GP newspaper's online resource centre for information and articles on going green in general practice.