The key to creating a healthier planet … is creating


By Roger Sharp, Chief Sustainability & Corporate Affairs Officer, Bupa Asia Pacific.

As someone who lives in, and loves, Melbourne, a large part of my time outside of work is spent visiting local cafes to eat, caffeinate, meet up with friends or simply to find an escape from work emails!

Hospitality is undoubtedly at the heart of Melbourne’s culture and many of those working in it have had to endure incredibly tough times during the pandemic. Sadly, there has also been an unhealthy undercurrent of waste in the sector from single-use plastics many of which end up in landfill or in our waterways or other natural habitats.

Roger Sharp, Bupa APAC Chief Sustainability & Corporate Affairs Officer

The proliferation of take-out food and containers used during the strict COVID lockdowns in Victoria served to only further aggravate this problem of plastic waste.

Roger Sharp, Bupa APAC Chief Sustainability & Corporate Affairs Officer

That is why I was pleased to see the State Government’s ban on many single-use plastic products such as straws, cutlery, plates and containers come into effect last week. This will go a long way towards creating more sustainable dining and entertaining experiences given that single-use plastics make up a third of all Victoria's litter. But is it enough?

Bans can only do so much

When it comes to making your industry, business or even your home more sustainable, many of us make the mistake of utilising the theory of addition by subtraction.

“If we ban disposable plastic cups and other products, there will be less waste in landfill.”

Yes, bans can help decarbonise our environment, but what will fill the void? How will Melbourne’s rightly cherished hospitality and retail industries survive? The answer, in most instances, is through addition by innovation.

Leading the change  

Recognising that having healthy people relies on a healthy planet, Bupa started its own journey towards Net Zero in 2021 and quickly realised that we won’t get there solely by taking things away. The healthcare industry is a product-hungry industry that can ill afford a shortage of resources. That’s why our journey towards Net Zero has been founded on innovation and partnerships.

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% natural, biodegradable and compostable bags made from the Cassava root across our business.

We are planning to start with simple kitchen products such as bin liners but see a multitude of uses across our retail stores, health provision businesses and aged care homes moving forward.

This is also not an area where we are seeking to own the solution. I am delighted that Bupa’s funding and networks will help Cassava Bags Australia to grow their business and commercial opportunities across a range of industries.

Along with a move towards 100 per cent recyclable paper bags in our Optical stores, We are also shifting towards biodegradable options across Bupa Dental Care’s network of 186 Australian practices that will take 100s of kilograms of waste out of landfill each year.

As ever, there is still more to do, but I am so proud of all the people at Bupa who have enthusiastically jumped into these projects and turned them into reality so quickly.

The multiplier effect

As a large health and care provider, we want to lead and be a part of efforts across the wider healthcare sector as it seeks to significantly reduce its carbon emissions.

In doing so, we feel sourcing using biodegradable products and investing in start-ups helps build capacity and the broader demand necessary for organisations, large and small, to scale-up, pivot to sustainable solutions and move away from carbon-intensive options.

If you build it, they will come  

As a parent of teenagers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying no, of taking away smart devices, of punishments and groundings. However, like with sustainability, it’s more effective to temper the concept of taking something away with a positive alternative solution.

Of course, there is initial push-back and maybe some anger, just as we are seeing with the ban on single-use plastics. But if you are committed to using your time and energy to replace the negative with a positive solution, the long-term outcomes will always be better.

So let’s welcome last week’s action by the State Government to ban single- use plastics in Victoria, but lets’ also remember you can’t create through prohibition alone. Rather, we all need to get our hands dirty, to innovate and create, if we are to build the sustainable future we all want to live in.