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Nepean Clinical School making an environmental impact

27 July 2022

Repurposing hospital plastics for sustainability

Staff and students at the Nepean Clinical School have been saving unused consumables left over from clinical trials run at Nepean Hospital, previously destined for landfill. They have diverted the material's fate from landfill, and towards collection for sorting and redistribution.

The team sorts through the waste for sorting.

Every day, truckloads of medical waste end up in landfill. Hospital waste confers a huge impact on the environment and a potential threat to human health. Additionally, the material of many waste objects does not biodegrade, taking centuries to decompose naturally.

In some Australian states, including NSW, incinerating hospital waste is a common method of disposal. This has proven even worse than if the waste is stored in landfill. Incineration kills most microorganisms and significantly reduces the volume of waste; the technique can release significant amounts of harmful emissions into the atmosphere. 

The sheer volume of hospital waste causes a significant economic burden for authorities and hospital waste is expensive to treat and remove due to its large volume, complex composition and potentially toxic nature.

On Thursday 11 May, a small band of students and staff from the hospital and faculty participated in their first event in support of MedEarth, a charity that distributes unused medical supplies to communities in desperate need. In an hour and a half 8 people sorted 28.5 kg of discarded materials.

Where did it all go?

Plastic collection

They are given to MedEarth, which donate them to countries in crisis. Most of the plastic consumables can also be used by Nepean’s research labs.

Tiana Pelaia, University of Sydney graduate and Research Scientist at Nepean ICU, delivered over 17kg of unused medical supplies to MedEarth. Supplies ranged from blood collection tubes, phlebotomy kits, slides and pipettes, to MedEarth.

  • 7.3kg of plastic tubes, and specialised containers (worth over $750) will be of use in research projects in the Nepean Clinical School Laboratories.
  • 2.9kg of paper, cardboard and soft plastics went for recycling.
  • Only 1.2kg of expired blood collection tubes went to landfill.

What's next?

The team are going for a Green Impact gold action, which is about creating a new sustainability initiative and engraining it in business as usual. They’re off to a great start, organising another sort in the coming weeks and plans of regularly running this initiative. 

Keep an eye out on the electronic noticeboards if you are around the school. You can register your interest by contacting anyone in the Nepean Clinical School Sustainability Workgroup:

Adam (student)

Tegan Bellamy

Lynne Gallaty

Kristy Skarratt

Hiam Simonsen

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