By Emily Norman

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More than 36,000 plastic milk bottles are dumped by Wairarapa Hospital each year.

But all that is changing, with a wave of conscientious hospital staff taking it upon themselves to recycle anything and everything they can.

From oxygen masks to IV fluid bags and milk bottles, the hospital now has a system in place to give the objects a new purpose, keeping their dumped waste low.

But this was not always the case, with more than 1200kg of empty milk bottles previously “just being thrown away” yearly.

Wairarapa operating theatre nurse Shelli Pillar said along with the milk bottles, the hospital went through 1165kg of blue sterile wraps each year, and other potentially recyclable items.

“Last year, I started looking at some general cost-saving measures in the theatre department and then I suddenly opened my eyes and saw the actual volumes of waste we were flinging out the doors that weren’t being repurposed at that point,” she said.

“I looked further afield and saw there was no recycling at all in the hospital, no milk bottles got recycled, nothing.

“We get 100 milk bottles a day delivered for staff and the café — I did all the costings of what weight that would turn out to be a year and what the tip charges us to dump it, and immediately the finance team were on board, backing possible solutions.”

She said the District Health Board had given “a clear commitment” to the cause, installing recycling bins in every department of the hospital.

“I think people want to be sustainable and do good, but it’s taking that first step that counts.”

Jenny Percival, also a nurse, said the hospital had made another longstanding recycling commitment by recycling used IV fluid bags, oxygen masks, and oxygen tubing.

“We use a lot of PVC in hospital,” she said.

“Baxter, who is one of our suppliers for IV fluids, came to me and asked if I would be interested in being involved with a recycling project that they were starting NZ-wide.”

This project uses the recycled PVC to make the plastic mesh mats that sit underneath outdoor children’s playgrounds.

Ms Percival said the hospital recycled their disposable metal equipment such as scissors, tweezers, and needle holders.

“It used to be awful because often you’d open up a packet, and you may not use everything in the packet, but you’d still be putting it all out to dispose of.

“Now, we’ve got buckets where all of that used equipment goes into and gets picked up and goes to a local metal recycler where it is melted down and then reused for something else so it’s not wasted.”

Ms Percival said hospital staff were on board with the recycling initiatives, but acknowledged it would take “a little while to change people’s habits”.

“In a work environment, recycling has to be easy,” she said.

“If you’re at work and you’re busy and you have to do those extra steps to recycle, then it has to be realistic. “The recycling containers need to be easy to access, because human nature is if it’s too hard, it won’t get done.”