The Foodservice Packaging Association is challenging plans for the UK National Health Service (NHS) to switch to china crockery in a bid to cut plastic waste.

The proposed move came in the wake of a report published by chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies earlier in April revealing that in 2016/17 hospital providers created almost 600,000 tonnes of waste. These figures exceed the entire municipal waste from some European countries like Cyprus and Luxembourg.

Data from Freedom of Information requests further showed that NHS trusts in England have purchased nearly 610 million disposable cups since 2013, with London trust Guy’s and St Thomas’ alone thought to have bought 30 million cups over the same period.

To combat this waste, the NHS announced plans to bring back china and ban single-use cup from wards. As a result, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust said china cups and glassware have been reintroduced and are now available to patients, and stats from London’s Barts Health NHS trust show the number of disposable cups has halved since the report came out.

However, according to UK charity Foodservice Packaging Association, the numbers reported may not be that significant given the size of the NHS, and the shift towards reusable cups may have some downsides.

The NHS may well be among the largest polluters in the UK, the charity said, but it also has to cater for 16.2 million hospital admissions every year and is the fifth-largest employer in the world. Adding visitors, carers and NHS staff brings this number to almost 20 million people annually attending hospital facilities.

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Foodservice Packaging Association executive director Martin Kersh said the NHS uses disposable cups—in both paper and plastic versions—for hot and cold drinks, as well as for clinical reasons such as dispensing medicine. This means that the NHS has an obligation to provide taxpayers with the best options available, which often means disposable cups.

Kersh added that alternatives to single-use cups, such as china crockery, are often heavier and require energy, chemicals and about five gallons of water to be washed.

He concluded: “Single-use cups in the NHS are the most cost-efficient option and can all be recycled. The industry is working hard to encourage recovery and recycling of all used packaging items in the NHS and many of the Trusts’ waste management operators are willing to work with the NHS to collect and recycle cups which, for example, could be sent to ACE UK’s plant. We would like to see more collaboration across the NHS to reduce waste and increase recycling of all the packaging it procures.”