Making sure our efforts don’t go to waste!

ICU photo

Picture: A soft plastic skip in St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne's ICU.

This year, Planet Ark’s National Recycling Week is themed ‘What goes around comes around’.

It’s all about high quality segregation practices so that our recycling can become part of the circular economy. We don’t want our efforts to go to waste.

Soft plastic is a big problem in Australian hospitals, particularly in theatres and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where sterile procedures generate a particularly large volume of soft plastic waste.

But a cutting-edge and collaborative, six-month trial, is allowing SVHM to recycle about 40 kilograms per fortnight.

The initiative has been led by Karl Askew, Associate Nurse Unit Manager, and his team.

SVHM has partnered with APR plastics to turn plastics into oil. APR use a pyrolysis method which provides a circular solution for plastic waste.

The chemical reaction happens in a completely sealed system, resulting in little to no emissions compared to traditional disposal methods such as incineration.

The oil created is sent to a refinery to be further processed so it can be reused in food-grade plastic products.

It means a waste resource becomes feedstock for a product, and back to a resource – so it has circularity.

Waste plastics targeted include items from ventilators housing and unsoiled gowns.

“Clinicians have responded positively and are communicating to understand better exactly what can go into soft plastic recycling,” said Karl.

“Thanks to the trial, we’re now incorporating the process into their workflow and without too much interruption - at the end of the shift, we just drop the bag in the soft plastic skip.

“Our biggest challenge to expand recycling in the hospital is finding storage space.”

Other tactics being used in ICU/theatres include:

  • Further recycling streams including PVC.
  • Repairing and maintaining furniture (including reupholstering).
  • Rehoming / diverting expired or superseded consumables and equipment such as hover bed mats and pumps are donated to developing countries such as Sierra Leone.
  • Reconfiguring bins to discourage over-reliance on clinical or general waste.
  • A switch to rechargeable batteries.

Next, SVHM is hoping to swap to reusable instead of single-use products. These could include ventilator valves, given 60% of ICU patients end up on a ventilator.

Read more about National Recycling Week, and how you can play your role, here: