Small changes are having a big impact on the throwaway culture at Hutt Hospital.
Hospitals are notorious for their reliance on single-use, disposable products. The origins of the throwaway culture probably lie in hospitals’ need for convenient sterile medical products, but the disposable dependence has spread well beyond the medical wards.
At the start of the year, a group of concerned staff members decided it was time for change. They formed a sustainability steering committee and started implementing a series of small progressive steps towards their goal of minimising waste and having a greener footprint.
Reducing waste and educating staff
Headed by emergency specialist Dominic Monaghan, the group of about a dozen nurses, doctors, administrators and other hospital staff are committed to finding ways of cutting down unnecessary waste and educating staff, patients and visitors of ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.
“So far, we’ve been trying to get our baselines, and our aim is to turn the hospital into a responsible citizen of the community and teach good habits that staff and patients will then take with them,” he says.
The most recent addition is 50 reusable coffee cups donated by MAS for the hospital’s cafeteria. Medical registrar Sean Lance said he noticed how many disposable coffee cups were being thrown out – he estimates at least 150 a day – and wanted to do something about it.
“There’s a big coffee culture in the hospital where all the teams go down to the café and get a barista coffee. Every day, I saw this rubbish bin full of disposable coffee cups, so I started thinking about how we could reduce that.”
The cups will live in the café and will be available to all staff. They’ll be able to leave them at various spots around the hospital where they’ll be collected by cleaning staff who’ll return them to the kitchen where they’ll be cleaned.
Lance says the response from staff has been overwhelmingly positive: “The main comment we’re hearing is ‘what else?’”
Reusable coffee cups made an impact – what’s next?
The use of plastic plates and cutlery in the cafeteria is the next issue to tackle.
“The cafeteria waste issue is something that everyone is exposed to every day, and the plan is to phase out plastic and actually start washing stuff again,” he says.
Monaghan and Lance are in agreement that small steps that people can do themselves will have an impact through scale and over time.
“It’s about taking responsibility and seeing how small things can change the big picture. Sure, there are big policy decisions that need to be made, but we know those big changes take years so it’s really down to the individual for reduction of waste,” Lance says.
The sustainability steering committee’s first change was eliminating all disposable plastic and styrofoam cups and to give all new doctors an aluminium water bottle.
“We installed a drinking fountain, which has been a high point of this project. We’ve got the funding for a second water fountain too, which will encourage people to refill their own bottles rather than buying new ones,” Monaghan says.
Positive changes for staff as well as patients
All patients throughout the hospital are now given water glasses rather than disposable plastic cups, and Lance says there are other areas where waste could be reduced.
Reducing environmental cost and adding value
“It’s not only about the environmental cost. It feeds other things like choosing wisely when ordering tests for patients that will actually add value. There’s a lot of disposable equipment, and each thing comes in its own package so there are other areas we can reduce waste,” he says.
The goal is to have sustainability integrated into every area of the hospital so that each department, purchasing decision and contract signed has sustainability at its heart.
Two-year plan with a green vision
Within a year or two, they plan to reduce the DHB’s greenhouse gas emissions, with goals like solar panels and replacing light bulbs with LEDs. There’s an e-bike that staff use for home visits, and the hospital’s car fleet is now one-third hybrid – a step in the right direction, Monaghan says.
But they are conscious of educating staff without nagging or becoming a burden.
“We’ve got education campaigns, and we’re doing little things like changing our recycling bins so that the paper bin won’t accept bottle-shaped objects. Overall, we want sustainability in every facet of the hospital and our staff to feel positive about it.”
Sustainable Health Sector National Network New Zealand
Monaghan says there’s a lot of commitment from hospitals across the country. They’re part of the Sustainable Health Sector National Network New Zealand, which includes almost every hospital and DHB in the country and gets together to discuss issues and successes. It’s helped by the Health Minister’s commitment to get all hospitals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
However, with tight budget constraints, committed volunteers are often left pushing the project.
“We need support from the outside so we’re grateful for any assistance, like what we received from MAS, that helps us meet our goals and provide more visibility for the project,” Monaghan says.