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Make it easy to recycle, save money

For waste education officer Rachel McConville, changing people’s behaviour to be more planet-friendly is about making it easy for them to change.

‘Simple is the main thing’ is her mantra.

‘Make it really simple and easy to do the right thing. If you want people to recycle, put your recycling bin next to the general waste bin. So people don’t have to make the decision to walk across the other side of the room to recycle.’

Ms McConville’s two-year role is a collaboration between ANMF (Vic Branch), the Department of Health and Human Services, Sustainability Victoria and Health Purchasing Victoria. ANMF successfully lobbied for the role which was funded by the Andrews Government in its 2017 Budget.

After research into hospital waste streams – clinical, general and recycling – and what could be improved, Ms McConville will undertake some sustainability projects in public health services that can then be replicated. She will also share knowledge about the many effective sustainability projects currently underway in Victorian hospitals, as well as how to set up a recycling program.

The aim is to reduce the environmental impact of the Victorian healthcare system with two objectives – one is reducing the amount of material going from hospitals to landfill and increasing the amount being recycled. Another is reducing the cost of clinical waste.

‘Clinical waste is a huge expense and a lot of what is going into clinical waste is not what should be going in there. There’s some confusion and different health services have different parameters around what they do and don’t count as clinical waste.

‘But there are some guidelines out there and part of what we’ll be doing is creating a program where we have a consistent approach to what is and isn’t clinical waste.’

Again, the aim is to make it easy for hospital staff to put clinical waste that can be recycled into a recycling bin.

‘Nurses and doctors working in these clinical areas are very time poor and working out what goes into clinical or non-clinical waste is not their job,’ Ms McConville acknowledged.

‘They’re looking after people, they’re saving lives. My job is to make that as easy as possible and to make it pretty much second nature, so it’s not interfering with their work.’

People care about climate change

Ms McConville is clear that people care about environmental issues, particularly climate change. And healthcare professionals are being affected by climate change regardless of what they think about it personally. New research published in The Lancet in 2017  points to a looming climate change-related global public health emergency.

People need to be shown what they can do to address the enormous environmental challenges facing us, Ms McConville says.

Three tips for setting up a recycling program at your health service

  1. Make sure you’ve got as much support as possible, as soon as possible. Get your manager and environmental services/waste management contractor on board from the start. Don’t try to do it on your own.
  2. Make it as simple as possible for people to put materials in the right bin. Use colour-coding. Put the general waste, clinical waste and recycling bins next to each other.
  3. Don’t try to convince everybody. There will always be naysayers but don’t waste time trying to persuade them. Most people will support you and those who don’t will join the majority eventually.