The impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of the world we once knew, and opened up the opportunity to make changes in how we live our lives for the betterment of all humans and the environment in which we live. As the community navigates the new normal, the importance of environmental sustainability has been highlighted in terms of how each of us can make decisions and undertake actions which are in the best interests of protecting the natural world.

Veterinarians and veterinary practices are being encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint, by implementing a range of sustainability and recycling initiatives in vet clinics to reduce waste and better use resources. “The medical and veterinary professions are very wasteful, normally using a lot of single-use items, combined with the need to use a variety of high energy equipment such as radiology, MRI, IT and laboratory equipment, and 24-hour temperature regulation. Given the effects of climate change on animals, the veterinary profession has an obligation to do all we can to reduce our carbon footprint”, said Dr Anne Rainbow, Communications and Memberships Manager for Veterinarians for Climate Action (VfCA).

The group is about to launch their ‘ClimateSmart’ hospital sustainability program to address all aspects of sustainability in veterinary practices, incorporating water and energy use, waste management and recycling.  VfCA’s 12-month sustainability program will be available to all corporate members of VfCA, with participating vet clinics also receiving a welcome pack of educational resources and acknowledgment of their support on VfCA’s website.

“Practices can become corporate members of VfCA and then begin the program in the coming months, with our first pilot group beginning in the next three months. The ClimateSmart program is also designed to promote cohesive teamwork and a positive clinic culture. Individual vets who are interested in sustainability can explain the benefits to their practice owners – mentioning the benefits of less waste, financial savings and a way to show corporate and climate responsibility”, said Dr Rainbow.

Veterinary practices are able to easily incorporate changes into their daily activities to achieve sustainability and recycling goals. This can include transitioning to incorporating increased use of digital technologies and minimising the use of paper, together with recycling paper and cardboard products – and where possible recycling medical supplies too. In the veterinary profession, sustainability also takes into account the responsible use of veterinary medicines to minimise antimicrobial resistance.


 Above: Recycling of syringes and plastics in a veterinary practice. 

Perth veterinarian Dr Tessa Murray, an associate veterinarian at Grantham St Veterinary Hospital, has been proactive in introducing a variety of sustainability and recycling initiatives into her workplace.

“I first got started by literally Googling ‘plastic reduction in hospitals’ and this led me to the PVC recycling programs in human hospitals, which recycles IV fluid bags and tubing. The main sticking point was producing enough volume to make it worthwhile, so we came up with the idea of involving other local vet practices. We have a single 240L bin system which is collected by the waste and recycling management company for a small charge, and our initiative has since expanded to also recycle syringes and glass ampoules, also collected for a small fee. We now have seven vet clinics using Grantham St as their recycling base, and I know that one of the large vet emergency hospitals has since set up their own too”, said Dr Murray.

“Although our recycling makes me delighted I still see that there is so much scope to do more – especially given how many people have contacted me for information, and then struggled to set up programs in other states. My ‘vision’ is to have this become far more widespread, and I would love to see some of the veterinary suppliers coming on board as collection hubs”.

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