By now you have heard about the Environmental Stewardship Team (ESTeam) at PHC, or at least we hope you have!  One of the working groups, Evaluation (ESTeam-Eval), is committed to:

Embedding measurement and its application to continuously drive us towards PHC’s goal of being a public health care sector industry environmental sustainability leader.

 As a starting point, the ESTeam-Eval working group has been reviewing what PHC currently measures related to environmental impact, and are planning for ways to share and improve the story told by the data. This month we want to talk to you about waste.

The background

On a quarterly basis, PHC obtains data on how much waste was generated overall (in metric tons) and how much of that waste was recycled, went to landfill or required incineration.

Now for some stats

In 2022, PHC dumped 1618 metric tons of garbage into landfills.

The good news is this number is down slightly from the 1666 metric tons that were dumped in 2021. The fact remains, this number is equivalent to filling 9 football fields with 2 inches deep of garbage.  It’s a lot and we are not alone. Canadian health care is responsible for ~300 tons of DAILY non-hazardous waste and 4.6 per cent of all Canadian greenhouse gas emissions (Eckleman et al, 2018).

What you can do

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the waste issues but keep in mind, when many of us take action even doing a little can have a big impact. Here are some things YOU can do to make a difference.

 1. Reduce consumption.  The biggest environmental impact comes from production of new materials.  So to reduce waste and emissions, our best approach is to consume less.  In  health care this can be small, regular actions such as only taking what you need into an isolation room or being cautious when pulling gloves out of a dispenser so as not to loosen a glove avalanche.

I work in the ER and every day I see so many opportunities where we could just avoid using the extra IV bags, or the second dressing package, or the syringes…there are so many ways we can think about and reinforce reducing waste as individuals.–​ Leyla Khosrovpour, RN, Emergency Department & ESTeam Member

To help reduce waste, I think it is important for people to remember that prolonged mask or respirator use for the day is acceptable and safe (provided they are not visibly dirty and are not defective).  We also have a mask recycling pilot program at PHC that is pending expansion approval/announcement from PHSA. – Dr. Victor Leung, Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control (IPAC)

Check out the PPE Guideline on SHOP for more on PPE, and the GreenCare Team’s Waste Reduction Toolkit to help you identify more opportunities to reduce waste.

2. Advocate for a shift to re-useables in your department.  Health care uses a huge amount of single use disposables yet peer reviewed studies have shown that following protocol with reusable PPE is as safe, or even safer than single-use.  Check out this video by the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care to learn more and think about what you can do in your area.

For more ideas, please take a look at this evidence based article Net zero healthcare: a call for clinician action in the British Medical Journal (2021).

3. Recycle when you can’t reduce or reuse

The graph below shows how PHC performed last year with waste (landfill) versus recycling.

Source: PHC Diversion Report by Regional Contracts Waste. Data based on weights provided by GFL Environmental Inc.

The percentage of waste that gets diverted from the landfill i.e. recycled, composted, etc. is the diversion rate.  Last year, across all PHC sites the diversion rate was 29.9 per cent (up from the 2021 rate of 27.1 per cent).

Source: PHC Diversion Report by Regional Contracts Waste.

In BC, all health organizations have a goal of reaching 50 per cent diversion by 2023. It’s a stretch goal, but at PHC we don’t shy away from doing something hard – it’s just who we are. Our commitment to environmental stewardship is embedded as one of our Foundational Principles in our seven-year Mission: Forward strategic plan.

Notably, some PHC sites are already showing us the way.

  • Honoria Conway earns special mention with a 77.1 per cent diversion rate!
  • Holy Family Hospital is also coming in above average at 47.6 per cent just 2.4 per cent away from target.

If you are looking to learn more about how to properly separate waste, check out this quick LearningHub course.​

Clinical and non clinical teams are taking up the challenge

The Facilities team, the Professional Practice Office, Clinical Informatics Team, the Research & KT Challenge Teams and the Office of Strategy & Results are all switching to using paper with recycled content after learning that PHC is using primarily ‘virgin’ paper i.e. no recycled content.  In 2020 PHC used ~12.6MILLION sheets of paper.  In 2021 this was up to ~16.1 million which translates to ~28 acres of forest impacted last year alone.  Just by switching to recycled content and not reducing consumption we could save impact on seven acres of forest.  And by setting a goal of use reduction, our impact can be even greater.

I’m hopeful that not only will we be using a more sustainable paper source, but we will also reduce consumption via education and awareness. – Deborah Mitchell, Chief Strategy Officer & VP Governance

Clinical teams are also making a conscious effort to recycle the huge numbers of masks we use every day.  Look out for the mask recycling bins on SPH 7A to 7D, 5A/B, 10A-D, 6A-C, ICUx2, 9CD, 8A, ED.  We are expecting this program to expand through provincial partnerships.​​

The ESTeam is making progress

The ESTeam Waste Working Group has a list of waste reduction ideas we are looking to progress, with more being submitted every day.

To name a few, we are taking up the challenge of reducing glove waste by addressing the inappropriate use of non-surgical gloves, first through a pilot and if sucessful, we will scale up.  We were inspired from across the ocean by the impressive efforts in the UK.

We have also partnered with Ideas: Forward to explore how we could make a switch from Styrofoam cups to more sustainable options, while still providing safe, quality products to patients.

The story told by PHC waste data is not a carefree tale, but the actions of the PHC community are showing us the way to a better story in the years to come.  We invite you to join us in this collective journey as an individual, as a team, and/or by joining the PHC ESTeam.

Have you completed the 2023 GreenCare survey? Your responses help us to measure trends, track progress on sustainability efforts and design new programs that will better meet your needs. The survey is open until March 16—complete it now for a chance to win a prize!