Waste-free initiative saves tonnes of landfill

More than two tonnes of waste, or the equivalent of 20 baby elephants, will be saved from entering landfill every year with the introduction of a new sustainability initiative at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW).

The Pathology Department at CHW has become the first hospital in Australia to trial a waste-free delivery system that delivers stock directly to the cool room using refrigerated trucks and reusable eskies called Silvercells.

The initiative, developed in collaboration with DHL and suppliers Siemens-Healthineers, saves 180 kilograms of landfill from each delivery; with the Silvercells eliminating the need for 39 polystyrene eskies, 156 ice bricks, 39 outer cardboard cartons, and 39 plastic bags.

Operations Manager of Pathology, Angus McDowell, said the initiative has not only contributed to reducing their environmental footprint, but is also generating cost savings and proving to be more time efficient.

“Healthcare in Australia contributes to seven per cent of national carbon emissions and across the Hospital, we generate a lot of waste because of single use items, especially in Pathology,” Angus said.

“Normally, stock that needs to be kept cold is delivered in huge, polystyrene eskies that are filled with ice bricks. All of this immediately goes into the trash and it also takes a lot of effort to unpack it all.

“To reduce this waste we’ve developed a new way, with the help of our delivery companies, which use refrigerated trucks to deliver stock directly to our cool rooms. This means no more waste or unpacking.”

Stacked up, the number of polystyrene eskies reduced each year would be taller than Westmead’s Central Acute Services Building– one of the tallest hospital buildings in Australia.

The waste-free initiative is one of several ways the Pathology Department are making their work more sustainable. In 2021, the Pathology lab saved more than 60,000 KWh per year – the equivalent of flying to Singapore 138 times - by defrosting our freezers, warming the temperatures of some of our units, focussing on general maintenance and decommissioning old units. This earned the team the Top Clinical Organisation Award and a Lab Award for the international 2021 Freezer Challenge

Earlier this year, the Biochemical Genetics Lab in the department followed suit, reducing their total energy consumption by 37 per cent per unit - the equivalent energy consumption an average household uses in one year. Through the simple measure of warming four of their ultra-low temperature freezers by 10 degrees, they were able to reduce their carbon footprint by more than 18 tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions a year. This achievement saw the team awarded the Top Hospital/Clinic Laboratory Award in the medium lab (10-25 people) category for their efforts.

The Pathology team have also established a Pathology Green Labs group and are continuously working on ways to improve sustainability in the department. Their efforts have enabled the Biochemical Genetics Lab to become receive a Platinum Certification Level of sustainability by My Green Lab, with plans to accredit a second lab in the near future. 

“Our staff are really motived to be part of a Green Labs group and it has grown rapidly over the past year. It’s certainly a morale boost to do something that protects our natural environment for future generations” Angus said.

Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network is investing in the development of a sustainability framework, which will include an action plan for halving our carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 - consistent with the NSW Health Climate Policy Change Framework.

See some of the ways other teams are achieving this.

As the Pathology team have shown, every action, big or small, can make a difference.