Creating a more sustainable veterinary practice

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sustainable veterinary practice
Photo: moisseyev – 123RF

As the threat of climate change accelerates, vets around Australia must answer the call to create more sustainable practices. From recycling medical waste to achieving carbon neutrality, the solutions are already here. By Shane Conroy

Climate change is widely recognised as an immediate threat to human, animal and ecosystem health. 

According to the World Veterinary Association (WVA), climate change-related temperature increases could leave many animals vulnerable to diseases and decreased productivity. It could also change patterns of vector-borne diseases and wildlife migration, as well as increase levels of mycotoxin production in animal feed, and parasitic disease burdens in animals.

That’s why the WVA is calling on vets around the world to advocate for animal health and wellbeing, protect ecosystem health, and demand action to minimise climate change. 

Vets for Climate Action (VfCA) is helping Australian vets answer that call. Dr Jeannet Kessels founded VfCA in 2019, and has since grown its membership to more than 1800 vets and vet nurses from across Australia. 

The Climate Care Program—set to launch in August 2022— is one way VfCA is supporting Australian vets to join the fight against climate change. It’s all about creating more sustainable vet practices. 

“The Climate Care Program aims to provide vets with the tools and knowledge needed to successfully integrate environmentally sustainable solutions into their day-to-day veterinary practices,” Dr Kessels explains. 

The Climate Care Program aims to provide vets with the tools and knowledge needed to successfully integrate environmentally sustainable solutions into their day-to-day veterinary practices. 

Dr Jeannet Kessels, founder, Vets for Climate Action

“Major change begins with small actions, and we want to help make it easier for busy vet practices to adopt every-day sustainability practices that add up.”

Reduce, repurpose, recycle 

Busselton Vet Hospital (BVH) in Western Australia is proving small, every-day actions can contribute to major change. The team at BVH has adopted the reduce, repurpose, recycle ethos to cut the practice’s landfill waste by 80 per cent. 

Kylie Gibbs, business manager at BVH, and her team set up a hospital waste recycling hub at the practice. They teamed up with SUEZ (now Veolia) to establish recycling streams for a range of medical waste that typically can’t be recycled through local council collection. 

This includes IV fluid bags and lines, uncontaminated syringes, catheter and needle caps, microchip implanters, glass vaccine vials, soft plastic packaging, surgical masks, disposable gloves and blister packs. 

“It took a small period of adjustment to change our every-day behaviours, but the team really embraced it,” says Gibbs. “Recycling a lot of our medical waste has become second nature. It’s just how we do things now.” 

General clinical and business hard waste is also recycled where possible, and Gibbs and her team have gone a step further to provide a community recycling facility. They invite all community members—not just BVH customers—to drop off a range of difficult-to-recycle household waste at the practice. 

“We started off looking for a way to recycle the coffee pods our team was using, and I found TerraCycle,” Gibbs explains. “It was quite easy to set up a TerraCycle Community Collection Hub. Now, in addition to coffee pods, anyone is welcome to drop off dry pet food bags, wet pet food pouches, toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, razors and razor packaging, and blister packs for recycling.

“This is not only making our practice more sustainable, but also helping our community become more sustainable. And it really adds up. Imagine if all vet practices across Australia reduced their landfill waste by 80 per cent. That would be a very significant change.” 

Towards net zero 

In addition to the important work of reducing landfill waste, the WVA cites the need to achieve net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It urges all members of the veterinary profession to adopt practices that minimise greenhouse gas emissions.

It took a small period of adjustment to change our every-day behaviours, but the team really embraced it. Recycling a lot of our medical waste has become second nature. It’s just how we do things now. 

Kylie Gibbs, business manager, Busselton Vet Hospital

Brimbank Veterinary Clinic in Victoria is evidence that’s a goal well within reach of the nation’s vet practices. It’s the first vet clinic in Australia to achieve carbon neutral certification on the Australian Government Climate Active register. 

As a longtime advocate for climate action, practice owner Dr Jeremy Watson rebuilt the premises 10 years ago to maximise energy efficiency. He used a solar passive design to optimise natural light throughout the practice. But he says you don’t have to rebuild in order to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your practice. 

“Vet practices use most electricity during the day, so we installed a 30kw rooftop solar system that generates more clean energy than we need,” he explains. “We’ve also upgraded most of our lighting to low-energy LEDs, and have replaced all our gas appliances with energy-efficient electric appliances.” 

Dr Watson also conducted a water audit to find ways to reduce the practice’s water usage—like turning the tap off while scrubbing up—and implemented a recycling program. 

He says that in addition to doing his part for the climate, there are also real business benefits associated with carbon neutrality. 

“We’re saving thousands of dollars every year on our electricity and water bills,” he says. “We’ve also found that being a carbon neutral practice has helped our recruitment efforts in a tight employment market. Our last two hires both commented that they were excited to work for a carbon neutral practice.” 

To get your sustainability journey started, Dr Watson suggests signing up for VfCA’s Climate Care Program. 

“The Climate Care Program breaks down climate action into six key aspects of sustainability, and provides simple steps you can follow to make improvements in each area,” he says. “I know how busy we are as vets, but climate change is a critical issue that we can all help solve.”

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