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Mighty effort by microbiology to cut waste at Concord

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2nd July, 2024

The crew at NSW Health Pathology’s microbiology laboratory at Concord Hospital have been punching above their weight when it comes to sustainability in the workplace.

Ash­leigh Gat­ley is a Tech­ni­cal Offi­cer at the Micro­bi­ol­o­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases lab­o­ra­to­ry at Con­cord and has always been inter­est­ed in sustainability.

She says she got seri­ous about reduc­ing the lab’s waste and boost­ing recy­cling when she was appoint­ed as the lab’s sus­tain­abil­i­ty offi­cer in late 2022.

“NSW Health Pathol­o­gy began an ini­tia­tive to encour­age depart­ments to be more sus­tain­able by allo­cat­ing a sus­tain­abil­i­ty offi­cer,” Ash­leigh said.

“I was sur­prised at how lit­tle we were recy­cling. It saves mon­ey in some instances and is much bet­ter for the envi­ron­ment, so it’s a no-brain­er for me!”

Since May 2023, Ashleigh’s ini­tia­tives have divert­ed a huge amount of waste going to landfill.

Specimen label recycling

Pre­vi­ous­ly going to clin­i­cal waste, these labels are now recy­cled in spe­cial­ly designed “con­fi­den­tial­i­ty bins” to pro­tect patient information.

This has saved approx­i­mate­ly 23kg of waste per month going into clin­i­cal waste, as well as sav­ing the cost of incin­er­at­ing the labels.

Two young women wearing white lab coats holding up a soft plastic recycling bin.
Nikol Andacic and Geor­gia Koos with one of the soft plas­tics recy­cling bins.

Soft plastics

Bins labelled ‘soft plas­tics’ are placed in mul­ti­ple loca­tions around the lab­o­ra­to­ry and emp­tied daily.

The waste is col­lect­ed week­ly by the hos­pi­tal and has saved approx­i­mate­ly 960 litres of plas­tic waste from land­fill each month.

Coffee grounds

Used cof­fee grounds from the lab­o­ra­to­ry cof­fee machine are col­lect­ed in buckets.

Staff take home to reuse in worm farms and gardens.

A bucket labelled "Coffee Grounds Only" on a kitchen bench near a coffee machine.
Mak­ing use of the lab’s used cof­fee grounds.

Ice brick disposal

Gel ice bricks used to keep deliv­er­ies cool are safe­ly dis­posed of down the sink, sav­ing the bricks being sent to landfill.

Each pack is made of a 100% recy­clable out­er pack­age and con­tains a non-tox­ic gel inside.

Other ongoing initiatives

  • Switch­ing lights off/ machines around the lab to con­serve power
  • Less plas­tic loop waste by the pur­chase of incin­er­a­tor and using Bun­sen burn­er alternatives
  • Recy­cle unused paper to re-use into scrapbooks
  • Keep hard ice bricks in store­room for staff to re-use.

Ash­leigh says it’s been a big team effort to get the recy­cling projects hap­pen­ing and sup­port­ed by staff.

“We dis­cuss our sus­tain­abil­i­ty projects week­ly at our lab­o­ra­to­ry meet­ings, so this is mas­sive for keep­ing the con­ver­sa­tion going. If we always have some­thing we are work­ing on, it encour­ages the lab to keep ideas flowing.

“I don’t have to work to get our team enthused about sus­tain­abil­i­ty. It’s some­thing every­one cares about and appre­ci­ates; it just takes some­one who cares enough to go out of their way to make the effort and the rest will get involved on their own.”

A woman in a white lab coat, leans on a large black recycling bin.
Ash­leigh with some of the larg­er recy­cling bins at the lab.

Her next chal­lenge for improv­ing sus­tain­abil­i­ty at the Con­cord laboratory?

“The next thing is to try and make the lab com­plete­ly paper­less, this has been a goal for the lab long before I start­ed here, so it is a long process,” she said.

“Anoth­er big issue is recy­cling our hard plas­tics – we are cur­rent­ly try­ing to fig­ure out a way to get this done.

“We also want to get more of the hos­pi­tal involved in these projects, and more of NSW Health Pathology.”

Ash­leigh has some great advice for teams hop­ing to make a start on being more sustainable.

“Just start small. One project at a time can make all the dif­fer­ence, even if it’s just start­ing the conversation.

“I would also sug­gest join­ing the Min­istry of Health’s Net Zero group – they post about sus­tain­abil­i­ty projects and relat­ed news all the time. It’s a great group to be part of if any­one is inter­est­ed in sustainability.”


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