Nothing drastic about reducing plastic
By Roger Sharp, Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer, Bupa APAC.
As you might expect, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to reduce our environmental impact as a health and care provider given our commitments to becoming a Net Zero business.
Inevitably, this involves a lot of meetings and reports; however, the most important ingredient in any sustainability strategy is people… Do people understand what we are doing, how we need to change and are they willing to get involved?
This is particularly pertinent around World Environment Day 2023, where the world unites to engage in activities aimed at reducing plastic pollution.
The universally understood issue of plastic pollution
As a result of many years of education programs and reduction initiatives by governments, business and community organisations, most people are aware of the dangers of plastics impacting our oceans, filling landfill and (increasingly) entering the bodies of both humans and wildlife.
Closer to home, Bupa employees have not shied away from the fact that the healthcare industry is a product-intensive industry with many plastic products required to care for patients in a clinically safe manner. When also taking energy consumption and other factors into account, the stark truth is that if the healthcare sector were a country, it would be the fifth largest polluter on Earth.
Closer to home, Bupa employees have not shied away from the fact that the healthcare industry is a product-intensive industry with many plastic products required to care for patients in a clinically safe manner.
Thankfully though, whenever I mention the need to reduce our plastic use across our business, the answer is usually “Yes, how can I help?” regardless of a person’s position or business proximity to the central sustainability team. It’s encouraging to know our people understand this is an ‘everyone’ issue and they’re willing to get their hands dirty through innovation, business transformation or volunteering to help address it.
Early wins on a long journey
Through our eco-Disruptive program, we have invested in and are working hand-in-hand with Aussie start-up Cassava Bags Australia to help roll out 100% biodegradable bags made from the Cassava root, across our business. We’re planning to start with simple kitchen products such as bin liners but we see a multitude of uses across our retail stores, health services businesses and aged care homes.
In our health insurance business, for example, we are offering digital membership cards which have been taken up by more than 668,000 customers. That’s a saving of enough physical plastic cards to wrap around the MCG 119 times!
Our dental business is also moving away from using single use plastics across a range of common dental care products such as tray covers, headrest covers, and X-Ray sensor sleeves while our Optical stores have shifted to 100% recyclable bags across our national network of stores. Again, in many of these instances we are partnering with our 2022 Eco-Disruptive winner, Cassava Bags Australia, on the solution.
In aged care, our New Zealand operations have diverted more than 1.5 tonnes of textile waste (including plastic-based materials such as polyester) from landfill through a uniform recycling partnership with Upparel. While in Australia, Bupa Aged Care has prevented more than 36,000 pieces of plastic from going into landfill since partnering with The Turtle Tribe to deliver bamboo toothbrushes to every Bupa care home.
Boots on the ground
While the war against plastic pollution requires high-level systems, innovations, and partnerships, sometimes the best way to move forward is to do the smaller things that are right in front of you, such as removing plastics from local ecosystems through volunteering and identifying and removing plastics from oceans, parklands and waterways.
I've had the pleasure of joining our team for several volunteering sessions with the Bupa Foundation’s strategic partner, Conservation Volunteers Australia, and love the engagement, teamwork and passion these events create as we advance our strategies for creating a healthy planet for healthy people.
And rest assured we have some bold plans for a Plastic Free July campaign… so stay tuned!
Applying Medical principals to environmental impact
The concept of “do no harm,” is a central principle of the Hippocratic oath for medical professionals and I believe we can extend this to all practitioners, businesses and suppliers who are connected to healthcare.
So, on World Environment Day, I encourage you to think about how you can apply environmental “do no harm” thinking to your professional and personal life and engage with the global call-out to find “Solutions to Plastic Pollution.
Because no matter who you are and what you do, there is plastic nearby and positive change within reach.