A nurse’s plea: Please bring back the water jug (here’s why)


Melinda Davis works in a Sydney hospital and is alarmed by the plastic bottle wastage she witnesses every day.

Melinda (right] writes: I work in a large tertiary metropolitan hospital. About four years ago, overnight we went from a jug and cup for our patients to 600ml bottles of water. To make one 600ml bottle of water requires 1.8-4.2  litres of water and 600ml of oil. These are precious finite resources that are being turned into a product that is usually single use, not taking into account the energy used to manufacture, transport and store the product.

To put this into some everyday life context. Our hospital is approximately 600 beds; based on 85% capacity(!) this is approximately 510 beds and 2 x 600ml bottles are delivered to each patient per day. Therefore at the very minimum on any given day in only one hospital, 1020 bottles of water are given out – this  is 372,000 bottles annually. Multiply this by the number of hospitals in one city, then by the number of cities and towns in one state, by the number of states in one country, it is easily seen what an enormous waste problem this presents.

There is a cost to all this plastic production at both a macro and micro level. Financially, can it really be cheaper to buy all these thousands of bottles of water compared to having jugs? The cost of disposing of all this excessive waste, whether it be through normal waste disposal or recycling? Think how many tonnes of waste would be saved and the cost related to this disposal.  Waste disposal is an expensive business. This money could be used for patient care, new equipment or even extra staff. The cost to the environment and our health of this plastic production is enormous, from the pollution in the production of the plastic to our inability to recycle the product at a higher rate leading to increased land and ocean pollution. This is leading to increased health problems for humans and animals. At the World Economic Forum in January 2017 it was estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish! This is insanity.

I believe not only as health professionals  but humans living on this amazing non-renewable planet called earth that we have a duty to encourage and educate our employers and the wider community to tread lightly and respectfully. There has to be a better way to hydrate our patients. Please can we  bring back the water jug, by any measure it would not be an insignificant move. We need to be more mindful in our everyday actions and workplaces.

I would be very interested to hear in my colleagues’ ideas and thoughts on this problem and if you have found any solutions.

Previously on Nurse Uncut:



  1. Hear hear Melinda. I agree 100%. I doesn’t make sense at all. Hit health services where they’ll feel it – in the hip pocket, then they may consider. Shame that’s the only way they’ll consider change.

  2. Hi Melinda, totally agree. I have been pushing the same line on the south coast. I have had minimal support from upper management and deliberate obstruction by a hospitality manager. It took a year of enquiries just to find the dollar cost per unit ($19cents! predatory pricing?)
    Our water is trucked from Sydney. The company just uses the same municipal water as residents.
    The plastic waste and greenhouse gases generated is a public health issue.
    I had written in The Lamp (Do no harm), trying to unite waste management committees in the south of NSW.
    Not one waste management committee replied!
    It’s almost as if bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation or change.

  3. The current bureaucratic policy that is supposed to address this does not even have the word ‘plastic’ in it. The NSW Heath Resource Efficiency Strategy 2016 -2023 has KPIs that are mostly based on saving money. So-called innovation in building energy use is merely the same as required of any residential property.
    The environment is reduced to cost saving.

    • Hi Chris, Thank you for reading the article. Your response very interesting and disappointing. The dollar cost is just ridiculous and in no way indicates how precious the resource is. I will be approaching our waste management committee and food services director.

      I remain positive!


  4. I , too, fully concur. Unfortunately we are up against the costing. Apparently it’s cheaper – but perhaps there are ways we can increase awareness – get patients on side so that they refuse plastic water bottles, perhaps?

  5. I’ve been complaining about this in our new hospital, we are a country hospital with the best water fit to drink (well everyone in town drinks it.) In the kitchen on the ward which the pts use there is good clean town water with a flash filter attached. At Christmas they ran out of bottled water and instead of giving the pts filtered water they went and brought plastic bottled water from Coles! I took a photo! Absolutely ridiculous! I heard the water the hospital suplies is recycled Sydney water, it has ‘bottled at Fairfield’ on it.

  6. I recently had a 4 day stay in hospital, my first experience of a hospital using bottled water. After all the publicity lately about the war on waste it shocked and saddened me. I deliberately counted the amount of bottles I used, it was 23! I was one patient in a large rural hospital, I even asked if the staff could refill my bottle from the tap (I was bedridden), they said it was against hospital policy..
    Can you believe that.

  7. Thankfully we still use water jugs unless there is a problem with water supply. But this may have more to do with the fact that we are a very isolated regional town so we’d never get a competitive rate on water bottles. In fact our water jugs are filled with tap water. Our water has a very high calcium content (and other minerals) and a peculiar, although not bad, taste. Many people who move here choose to drink “shop” water. I’m sure our interesting water may be a shock for the tourists who get admitted.

  8. Nope. As a nurse I’ve witnessed far to many patients urinate into the water jugs to ever consider drinking out of one as a patient. (Yes I would throw out the ones I found, but not everyone did)

  9. I totally agree, and am so pleased to see my colleagues’ concern with the environment being expressed in words and action. Good on all of you!
    Where I work we constantly run out of bottled water, and there are NO cups/glasses/jugs or ANY vessel of any description, either reuseable or disposable, to use when we have no bottled water. This leads to dehydrated patients. What happened to Essentials of Care?

  10. Totally agree, unnecessary waste and half the patients can’t open the bottle, or they only partially drink it, why can’t each room have a filtered water tap, the patients have their own jug which doesn’t need replacing until discharge or weekly, glass change daily when nurses are rounding they can fill jugs up.

  11. Good on you Melinda – well written and spot on! I was recently a patient in Bathurst Hospital and thankfully they still use jugs but who knows when someone from “management” may change tack! It is important to appreciate that the individual can make change, even though everything is structured to feel like we can’t. Keep pushing with it because a lot of the people would support you. Maybe write to the media? Or a local environmental group who can see the wider implications and take action? xxx

  12. I totally agree. I’m a regular patient in hospitals and the disposable water bottles are just the tip of the iceberg. Then there’s the disposable one-use plastic pill container the nurse brings your meds in. Which is thrown away after each use. The disposable cutlery and little bottles of milk and yoghurt that gets thrown away even if you don’t touch it. My list could go on. However my body won’t allow much more typing. But you get the drift. Even the curtains dividing the beds are now disposable.


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