Trying to reduce plastic waste in hospitals is not easy

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Our story on plastic water bottles in hospitals drew a huge response. Chris Nimmo on the south coast of NSW has also been trying to reduce plastic useage in his hospital. Chris discusses the difficulty of making changes in the health system.

Chris: I chair the Eurobodalla Waste Management Committee (EWMC) which covers Narooma Community Health and Moruya and Batemans Bay Hospitals on the south coast.

The EWMC is concerned with the huge amount of plastic products that Health consumes. They are mostly single use and hard to replace at the moment. We identified three items that should be easily replaced: plastic water bottles, plastic pill cups and plastic drinking cups.

Plastic water bottles are heavy and are transported by trucks that average between 2-3km per litre of diesel fuel.

As our bottles are shipped from Sydney, the distances involved are large. The fuel consumption and thus greenhouse gas emissions of transport add to the already heavy emission of greenhouse gas emissions generated in their production and bottling.

Information from our Infection Control Officer indicates that only patients who are neutropenic need to have bottled water.

Regarding the pill cups, our Procurements Officer informs me that paper pill cups are three times the cost of the plastic pill cups.

I would think this presents an opportunity for a supplier. Surely some company should be able to outprice the plastic.

The Procurements Officer did contact the manufacturer who told her the pill cups are biodegradable. The pill cups have the recycling symbol with the numeral 5 embossed on the base. This indicates they are made of polypropylene, which is not biodegradable. This issue of companies claiming their products are biodegradable when they are not is another issue. I read in the SMH (“The compostable cup you can’t compost, and the trouble with our recycling system” 1 July 2017) that claims of environmental sustainability are problematic. However I don’t want to accuse the pill cup supplier of false claims.

I have read Health’s policy on waste, Resource Efficiency Strategy 2016 to 2023. The word ‘plastic’ does not appear once. I assume plastic is included in ‘co-mingled waste’. Almost all the KPIs are based on reducing cost. There is no mandatory requirement to consider the environmental effects. Environmental conditions imposed on new buildings are no more than required by Local Councils and can hardly be considered as Health being pro-active.

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