Searching for the gold in garbage

06 October 2020

Queensland anaesthetist Associate Professor Kerstin Wyssusek is recognised as an inspirational leader in hospital waste and recycling initiatives.

In 2009 when Kerstin started a new role as a consultant anaesthetist at a large Brisbane public hospital she was struck by the lack of waste segregation and recycling initiatives in the operating theatres.

In this video, Dr Jessica Hegedus, an anaesthetist at Wollongong Hospital and an ESWG member, talks to Brisbane fellow Associate Professor Kerstin Wyssusek about how she encourages others to create gold out of hospital garbage.
While her fellow consultants and nursing staff supported the introduction of environmental sustainability programs to reduce the amount of waste collected on site, their experience at the hospital hadn’t been positive.

“When I discovered there was no waste segregation in the hospital’s operating theatres this sparked my interest and I started asking why?”, she explains. 

“After talking to a couple of nurses I found out that they had actually started a waste management  program at the hospital but after a waste audit was conducted they were reprimanded by hospital managers for not separating the waste into the right areas so the initiative quickly came to a halt.”

“It soon became clear that all that was needed was more information for staff on how to segregate the different types of waste using posters and promotional materials and once we started doing this everyone across the hospital embraced it. It was great to see how such a small change in practice and information can motivate staff.”

A decade later Kerstin was recognised by the Queensland Department of Health and Minister for Health Dr Stephen Miles for her commitment to the state’s hospital waste and recycling initiatives. She received two Queensland Health Awards for Excellence at a presentation in Brisbane in late 2019 − the Individual Award for Outstanding Achievement and another as second runner-up in the Minister’s Award for Excellence.

Kerstin stresses that team support and advocacy is key to the success of sustainability and recycling initiatives.

“There’s always a handful of people who are interested and committed and this then leads to more engagement and, ultimately, a change of practice.”

She says in her experience over the past decade simple information for staff about how to separate general hospital waste such as paper and cardboard, sterile packaging and plastic is key to changing mindsets about sustainability and recycling initiatives. 

Kerstin was appointed Director of the Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, the largest anaesthesia department in Queensland, nearly five years ago. She leads a department of 150 anaesthetists and 80 anaesthetic healthcare practitioners.

She is an enthusiastic driver of quality improvement initiatives and since her appointment has initiated and supported the implementation of some 30 such measures in the department including establishing a Centre for Excellence in Innovation in Anaesthesia. The centre delivers education, training, simulation and research, with a research output of around 35 publications a year (a 700 per cent increase in department research over five years.)

Her department has also significantly reduced its use of desflurane, which produces the highest carbon emissions of any anaesthetic gas, by more than 70 per cent.

Kerstin is now working on a new environmental sustainability project in collaboration with the University of Queensland and the Herston Biofabrication Institute in Brisbane to develop a “circular economy” approach to the medical plastics recycling process that could help hospitals become even more sustainable.

Last updated 15:25 8.10.2020