Here is a photo taken at lunch time last week in the kitchen of our inpatient mental health unit.
On the right hand side is a single-use Styrofoam food container. Since 2012, our inpatient unit has been receiving 30-40 of these each day, seven days a week, for patient lunches – an estimated 100,000-130,000 packages, in all.
Styrofoam is a petroleum-based plastic. Chemicals used in the manufacture of Styrofoam are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as ecotoxic and carcinogenic. According to a paper posted by the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council, polystyrene foam packaging can last in a landfill for 500 years, leaching those chemicals into soil and waterways.
Sitting to the left, on our kitchen bench, is a lunch package made of sugarcane pulp, a by-product of the sugar refining industry. It is home compostable. Production of these Biocane clamshells is certified carbon neutral.
Last week, our unit finally phased out the use of Styrofoam and switched over to the sustainable alternative. This was achieved with the support of the Green Champions group – a DHB-wide network of staff volunteers who advocate for change in their workplaces.
District Health Boards are getting to grips with the big, transformational changes demanded by Government and society, to reduce their environmental impact.
While staff and our unions – through groups like the PSA Eco Network – continue to push for these system-wide changes, let’s not forget to celebrate the little wins for environmental sustainability in our hospitals, like this one.