If we don’t save the planet, where will we put our stuff?

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Clay Adams | June 9th, 2016

As I write this, many are celebrating World Oceans Days. Hug an octopus, spin with a seal or float among sharks. I can attest first-hand just how amazing that is and what a wonderful environment our oceans are.

Which gets me to a key word – environment. Or, more to the point, environmentalists. Now when one thinks of environmentalists, they (meaning me) think of tofu-munching, hemp wearing, bearded hippies with guitars and no job.

But that would be stereo-typing and I, for one, would be the last person to do that. Well, maybe. The reality is that my picture of an environmentalist is probably further from the truth than a Donald Trump policy speech (which I can say without fear of retribution because Trump hasn’t actually declared any policies as yet…well, other than building a wall against Mexico which, I suppose is one to stop the US national team getting a spanking on the soccer pitch).

I know this because I had the honor and pleasure to meet over 150 planet saving folks recently – and there wasn’t a hemp outfit among them, although a couple did have beards. And they all had a job. I know this because they all work for VCH, PHSA, Providence and Fraser Health.

A large community

The gathering was to celebrate the work of our Green+Leaders across the Lower Mainland. These are the roughly 260 active folks like you who have made a voluntary commitment to make our health system a greener environment. Lab techs, nurses, program managers, health record clerks. Just employees giving back to the system in their own way by encouraging their colleagues to think green.

Now I don’t see myself as a “greenie”. (Really? Now that’s a surprise – Ed.) I don’t hug trees, wear hemp (let alone smoke anything resembling it), munch anywhere near enough salad, or walk streets with placards urging people to save whales, dolphins or exotic Guatemalan hardwoods.

I do my part

On the other hand, amidst much eye rolling at home, I meticulously separate garbage from recycling and place kitchen scraps in our green bin. I shut off lights when rooms are empty, tear apart and recycle those little Keurig cups (I know they’re bad for the environment, but I absolutely suck at making coffee), and turn the thermostat down in winter. I even drive a hybrid car when I’m not using transit, although I draw the line at cycling. Sorry.

Some might call me responsible; some might call me anal. I won’t tell you what my family calls me, only to say I can’t repeat it and I doubt that they will nominate me for a Green+Leader award anytime soon.

The reason I raise this is because the world is changing. Being green these days has taken on an entirely new dimension. It is no longer about saving Mother Earth, but simply about keeping Mother Earth alive for a lot longer and – hopefully – without calling a Code Blue every so often.

One way of getting on board the bus, bike or whatever (sorry, but the Toronto Blue Jays own the bandwagon right now) is to become a part of the Green care Community. From here, you can sign up for a carpool, discover ways to make your workplace more resource friendly, register for the Clean Commuter & Wellness Challenge, and even save the bees.

It’s humbling

It is heartening and humbling to see and hear what our Green+Leaders do and the impact they make by creating awareness and engagement that leads to a true culture of environmental health and wellness.

It’s not easy to create change in the workplace. Heck, it’s not easy to make change anywhere. But I can tell you that their efforts are being noticed and that every year the Lower Mainland Green Care program grows and every year we see more projects and more people touched by the volunteer work that they do.

We rely on our Green+Leaders to help lead and inspire others, whether it’s through Active and Clean transportation campaigns in the workplace, improved recycling habits, or lunch and learn events. Green+Leaders are changing our culture, one person and one action at a time and that is something that we should all be proud of.

Reduce waste

I’m not running out to grab a pair of spandex riding shorts. In fact, I’m not running anywhere. This body wasn’t built by doing marathons. What I am doing, like many others, is trying to spread the word that we can all reduce waste, cut down on those greenhouse gases and try to make our health system a little better for the patients, clients and residents we care for and about.

What are you doing?


About the Author

Clay Adams
email iconClay.Adams@vch.ca  

Clay Adams is vice president of Communications and Public Affairs and has extensive experience in strategic communications and planning, media relations, issues management and stakeholder communications in Australia and Canada. Clay writes on communication related topics with a wry humorous style and has an interest in discussion about how we want to be understood by others. View all the posts by Clay.

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29 comments on “If we don’t save the planet, where will we put our stuff?

  • Ally Helgason says:

    I appreciate you writing this article, in hopes that VCH will move forward with a mandatory recycling program in all areas, regardless of cost.

    I am disapointed that VCH has taken steps backward in the recycling of soft plastics. The soft plastic recycling was elimnated a couple years ago. In my department, we generate an obscene amount of soft platic waste, which is thrown in the garbage. VCH needs to do their part & provide collection for reycling in both patient & staff areas to include food waste, soft plastics, shiny plastics, & styrofoam . I know that this is all possible, as I personally take all of my plastics from home including soft & shiny plastics, & styrfoam for recycling. Although, I pay extra for this service, I feel it is worth it. Recyling may not be cost effective, but our planet is more important & deserves priority.

  • Mauricio Acosta says:

    Clay, thank you for this positive account of the Green+Leader program and GreenCare. You are right, Green+Leaders are staff volunteers from across the four Lower Mainland Health Organizations, who are supported (by their Managers and the LMHOs) to dedicate a couple of hours per month to help create a culture of sustainability across the organizations. And you are right, they are a mix of professionals from across the four LMHOs, all motivated to inspire behaviour change and improve processes.

    As Director of the Energy & Environmental Sustainability team, I too am inspired by the level of engagement and desire to create a more environmentally responsible health care. We see this with the Green+Leader program, which recruits new staff each year. We experience this with the Recycling Renewal Program and the growing number of champions and interest that staff have in supporting recycling and waste reduction. As well, the Clean Commuter & Wellness Challenge, which we are in the midst of, has more participants than ever before. The GreenCare Community (www.BCGreenCare.ca), which is our online channel for information, resources and discussion on these themes, is growing in number of registered users and daily visits.

    All this is very encouraging and yet we know we need to do more. We greatly appreciate your ongoing support and enthusiasm for GreenCare programs. My role / Our work is to further embed these values, enhance infrastructure and processes, and support staff across the organization in their efforts to find solutions to waste reduction, active and clean commuting, energy efficiencies to name a few. Our success depends on an increasingly collaborative approach and we would not be where we are without the numerous efforts and initiatives spearheaded by individuals, teams and departments across the LMHOs.

    We hope that we can continue to support and inspire the LMHOs to do more and act as leaders with respect to environmental stewardship, as it links so clearly with health and wellness for patients, populations and the communities we serve.

    For my part, I have been cycling to work from the North Shore at least twice a week, getting pass the myth of the cold weather (… well, scratch that when is raining hard) and could go on forever listing the benefits I notice on daily basis, so I commit to continue doing my part and leading by example.

    Thanks again for the support

    • Lyla Smith says:

      Is anyone following this thread able to answer the question – Why doesn’t VCH initiate a plan to return to using glass IV bottles to dramatically reduce use of plastics, and eliminate a huge contributor to the hospital waste stream?

      • Gen Handley says:

        Hi Lyla, I don’t know who can answer this question of yours. I’ll have to get back to you.

        • Lyla Smith says:

          Thanks! It seems like an idea whose time has come. We used to do this in VCH only a few decades ago, and made far less garbage.

          • Sonja Janousek says:

            Hi Lyla,
            Thanks for your ideas on how to reduce waste! Please keep them coming by emailing me at sonja.janousek@fraserhealth.ca
            As we start to look at options for reducing waste in the healthcare system, it’s important to get input from clinical staff. I encourage you to think about some non-patient care items that could be reduced, for example, medical supply packaging. As I’ve mentioned to you on another occasion, infection control has to be considered when we look at items used in patient care. And we will, but opportunities to reduce packaging may be an easier first step. Also, Helen provides some key reasons why plastic can be better in some cases than glass. This is the challenge: taking in all perspectives, making the connection between waste and health, and then making the best decision for both our patients and the environment.

      • Alexandra says:

        Hi Lyla,

        Thanks for your questions on this thread re: going back to using glass IV bottles, getting rid of plastic dressing trays, and switching to autoclaving dressing trays for in hospital use instead.

        I think the best person to respond to your question is Sonja Janousek. She coordinates GreenCare’s Recycling Renewal Program for VCH, PHC and PHSA (view her profile here: https://bcgreencare.ca/meet-helen-and-sonja), and is now starting to work more on environmentally preferred purchasing to reduce toxicity of supplies/equipment/furniture/cleaning products.

        Lyla, as you mention, reducing / getting rid of plastic products (and going back to glass IV bottles) in health care will have a positive impact on both health outcomes and environmental outcomes, as well as save money in waste disposal!

        Sonja is away at the moment and most of next week. I will ask her to follow-up here when she returns.

        Thanks again for bringing up this important issue!

      • Helen Williams says:

        Hi Lyla,

        Thank you for your comment – it’s great that we’re having more of these discussions about waste in healthcare and its wide-ranging impacts.

        Regarding your question about glass IV bottles vs plastic, I’m not a medical professional so I can’t talk to the pros and cons from a clinical point of view, but plastic does actually have a lot of advantages over glass, of which probably the most significant is that it’s much lighter, and therefore requires much less energy to transport.
        Another advantage of plastic is that it doesn’t break, which is health and safety risk for glass. In terms of whether it’s more environmentally-friendly to buy glassware and sterilise it, or buy plastic and discard it, the evidence isn’t that clear. Sterilising costs time, money and energy, and glass containers are more expensive to buy in the first place than plastic. It’s also worth bearing in mind that when the glass eventually goes to landfill (we cannot recycle medical glassware because of concerns about contamination), the glass container will take up much more space than the plastic IV bag.

        All this is to say that the ‘glass or plastic’ question is more complex than it might at first appear. Surprisingly, plastic does actually have some environmental, as well as other advantages, over glass. If you are interested I can send you some more information – feel free to email me directly (helen.williams@fraserhealth.ca)

        Thanks again for your interest and enthusiasm!

        • Lyla Smith says:

          Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Helen.
          In terms of transport, glass IV bottles, when used in the past, were filled in house. So the transport issue only came up first time around.
          In terms of disposal, it seems reasonable to be able to autoclave the relatively small amounts of broken glass resulting from dropped bottles, then that glass could be disposed of in the regular waste stream.
          It would be interesting to see the data, for sure, on whether or not the manufacture of plastics, especially at the large volumes used by hospitals globally, is more environmentally sound that re-sterilizing glass. Since both require consumption of energy, which one uses more? In terms of re-usable glass, of course, the manufacture phase would likely be more minimal, since it would happen less. The toxic elements used in production would have to be factored in as well.
          In terms of putting together and autoclaving dressing trays with non-disposable tools, that already happens with some specialty trays. Reducing plastic in the waste stream is one thing. Small metal tools are also just thrown away now.
          Since the topic of hospital waste has come up here, it seems totally relevant to discuss some of the elements that contribute most to that waste. I hope this part of the discussion gets some serious consideration, since plastic waste is likely a huge component of the overall hospital trash. It would be really interesting to see what percentage of the total it is?

  • Jillian says:

    My family has gone milkless! Sounds strange but it was a change that needed to happen. One day I saw a poster on a wall near the Canada Line station that had a photo of a cow and written above it “not your mum, not your milk”. That is so right.
    After years of drinking milk it finally clicked that the poster was correct.
    So, we are now drinking a healty alternative (a little resisitance from the kids but that is ok) Adults don’t need to be drinking cows milk period! Now is there alot less plastic coming out of our house per week from those milk jugs and we are healthier for it . Imagine if all adults stopped drinking milk how much plastic we could keep out of landfills and no need for cows that produce tons of manure and the land could be used to raise crops instead that is much better for us! A win win situation all around.
    There is so are so many man made products that we don’t need to use in our lives. Just imagine if everyone made small but significant changes!
    Thanks for the post Clay, the topic is great reminder for all of us.

    • Kirk says:

      Hi Jillian.
      What are you and your family drinking instead of milk?

      • Charlene says:

        If you need “milk”, there are good soy brands now. My husband has started using the soy creamer in his coffee. It’s the Silk brand. I was surprised when that happened!

      • Jillian says:

        Hi Kirk,

        we are drinking almond milk which works just as well on cereal and makes great pancakes. As a treat my children like the chocolate flavoured.

  • Sonja Janousek says:

    Thanks Clay for sharing your environmental journey and asking others what they are doing!
    And thanks to everyone who has and will share great ideas by replying to this posting!
    If anyone is looking for more information on how to reduce waste and improve recycling results in our acute and residential care sites, we have lots of resources on the Recycling Renewal Program page: https://bcgreencare.ca/program/recycling-renewal-program
    including educational tools and a waste management online module: https://bcgreencare.ca/resource/rrp-recycling-education

  • Glen Garrick says:

    It’s very encouraging to see an executive leader of VCH taking a stand on these issues.

    I often hear a strong apathy from health care professionals as they either do not (yet) see or ignore the link between environmental health and human health or simply feel entitled to use as much of whatever resource with no thought of waste, all in the name of patient care. Both of these views are extremely short sighted and ultimately short term care, which both fail to provide long term preventative care.

    Instead of ignoring our environmental impact or abusing our finite resources, health care needs to focus on becoming innovative, transformative, and resilient in their focus on providing holistic human AND environmental care.

    GreenCare is the initiative for the lower mainland health care organizations to promote this care. But hopefully one day we won’t need an initiative to drive this way of thinking and programs in health care. Until then, I’ll be supporting GreenCare initiatives including the Green+Leaders program.

    I’m proud to see health care leaders like Clay and others within the BC health care sector learning from past behaviours and striving to create a stronger and more efficient health care system.

    Sustainability Manager

    • Lyla Smith says:

      What about reducing the waste produced by hospitals by going back to using glass IV bottles? Why not go back to autoclaving dressing trays for in hospital use? Serious reduction in hospital generated waste would result.

    • Clay Adams says:

      Kind words Glen, but the kudos for the work and vision must truly go to you, your GreenCare colleagues and the hundreds of Green+Leaders and staff who push for a greener, more sustainable system. Many would simply give up after a while, but the persistence (or was also a of nagging?) is truly paying off and reducing unnecessary costs that enable more resources to channel to direct patient care. And, at the same time, it creates a better environment for our staff, patients and everyone else on this ship we call Mother earth. My hat is off to you and all you inspire. Well done.

    • Lyla Smith says:

      Great comments here. How about reducing hospital produced waste in more than just the cafeteria. Go back to using glass IV bottles, and autoclaving dressing trays on site. Not all that long ago that’s how it was done. And the hospital waste produced was considerably less. BC has been a leader in environmental movements before. It’s great there’s a ‘green’ awareness at VCH. Doing something like this would put VCH on the map around the world. Serious waste reduction means serious changes need to be made.

      • Margaret says:

        I can get down with some of that. The disposable dressing trays used to make me cringe at the waste. I have to say though, if you’ve ever had to hoist glass bottles onto an IV pole and smashed a few on the floor…it was nice to see the vinyl bags.
        One hospital I worked in had a big bucket to recycle the IV bag outer wrapping. Sadly the vinyl bag was considered bio hazardous waste and couldn’t be recycled.
        Colleagues who’d worked in the US often remarked on how much we waste when the patient isn’t paying for it. Our ward posted the prices of all the supplies. Seeing them made me think when I was using supplies and it made me waste less.

        • Lyla Smith says:

          I remember hoisting glass IV bottles, too. They weren’t THAT heavy. 🙂 (It’s a free fitness regime. . .) I do remember lowering the pole to hang IVs if there was more than one solution running. Certainly starting with going back to producing in house non-plastic dressing trays would be a good place to start. In the US, in some jurisdictions all supplies are added to your bill. Bar codes on dressing supplies are scanned before use. But then, in the US, you can be made bankrupt if you have a major illness. Also, the old canard that you either save money or the environment just won’t cut it anymore. Just because VCH doesn’t pay for the diesel to ship all the plastic and fluid here doesn’t mean it’s not reflected in the final bill. In terms of $$, or what it costs the environment.

  • Helen Williams says:

    Excellent piece! It’s great that we’re seeing growing recognition of the way that environmental issues impact our own health and well being here in BC. Damaging our environment exacerbates respiratory problems, heat stroke, contaminated soil and water, to name but three, and the most vulnerable members of society are always hit hardest. Clay’s right: “being green” isn’t about waving placards and making your own tofu (although it can be! No judgement) – it’s about ensuring a safe, healthy world for our patients, our communities and ourselves.

    • Clay Adams says:

      Thanks Helen. Not much more I can say other than “right on” – although I’m still not sure about the tofu thing.

  • Margaret says:

    I’m glad to see this article.
    You’re right we can make lots of little changes without forgoing every creature comfort.
    There are things we all do. We clean, we eat, we bathe and groom. You can switch to more eco cleaning products and scent free soaps. The phthalates used to carry scent are a petroleum product and very toxic to you and the environment. Go to Environmental Working Group we site and check out how your laundry and dish soap and other cleaning products stack up. EWG also have Skin Deep site that tells you about the chemicals in cosmetics. I stopped using a lot of the products after a bit of research.
    You don’t have to buy everything organic, but check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 so you can make better, more informed choices about pesticides.
    Try to use a recyclable bag when you shop. Keep them in your car, shove the fold up ones into your purse. It’s a habit that takes a bit to get used to but platic is KILLING us.
    Speaking of which: If you have a packaging choice between plastic and glass – I pick glass.
    The toxicity from plastics isn’t fully understood nor researched. But it’s well understood that platics do leach into food. Not all plastics are created equal – so get yourself informed about which are least harmful.
    It’s your health, it’s your world, it’s your children’s world. We need to take care of it. If we don’t, who’s going to?

  • Tristan Rayner says:

    It’s so important to keep the reduce, reuse, recycle ethos front of mind, and to teach it to the younger generation. Still blows my mind when I see young people littering, but then many adults don’t set great examples. Some people have done the 30 day garbage challenge where you are not able to “throw-away” anything that isn’t compostable or recyclable. You can probably imagine how things look by the end of the month. It really makes you think about what you consume and how it is packaged, something that many choose to ignore because it is horrifying to think about. On top of the usual green care practices, some things people have recently started doing:

    Carrying spare coffee mugs in the vehicle so you don’t need to use throw-away coffee cups if you decide to grab a drink.
    Also have a set of utensils in a container in the vehicle in case you spontaneously grab take-out, so you don’t need plastic knives and forks.
    Whenever ordering drinks at bars or restaurants, always ask the server, “no straws please” – 500 MILLION straws a DAY go into the garbage in North America alone.
    Clay did you know you can get re-usable coffee pods for the Keurig? This way you can use whatever coffee you like, then empty, wash, & re-use. Says “up to 5 times” on the package, I must be at 50 uses and still going strong.

    Thanks for the raising the talking points, happy Junuary!

  • Raul says:

    Instead of recycling those little Keurig cups, you could try getting a reusable Keurig cup! They’re really simple to use, just fill it up with the coffee of your choice:


    (One is for older machines, the other one is for the newer ones)

    • Clay Adams says:

      Thanks Raul. I actually have one of those and have used it – poorly. TBH, I can’t even seem to make decent coffee in it. Perhaps it’s a psychological thing, but what I make tastes like used sump oil or old dish water. As selfish as it might be (sorry), I’ll stick with the prepackaged cups and just pull them apart as mentioned. But thanks for the idea. Hopefully others will follow your lead and be more successful than me.

  • Lyla Smith says:

    Great! Reduce waste, cut down on greenhouse gases and improve our health system by going back to using glass IV bottles, and getting rid of plastic dressing trays. This whole waste stream has only been in place for a few decades. BC has led the world in environmental innovation for ages. Let’s do it again and get rid of this entire plastic waste stream. Imagine the savings in trash disposal reduction alone. . let alone what a gift that would be to Planet A.

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