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Net zero pharmacists leading the way

When pharmacists Sally Nicolson and Debbie Barry took on the Net Zero Lead roles at Hornsby Ku-ring-Gai Hospital, they were tasked with developing projects with a pharmaceutical focus. 

They chose to start locally by reducing the environmental footprint of the dispensary. The plastic bags in their pharmacy were their first target, particularly after they calculated the hospital was using up to 31,000 single-use plastic bags per annum.

The pair found that most of these bags could be replaced with paper bags or cartons that can be recycled and are biodegradable.  

The new paper bags were rolled out in March this year. Debbie says their Net Zero project started in November 2022, around the same time a public mandate came out to stop single-use plastics in the community.

“It was a good project start for our Net Zero,” she said.

The pair is now focusing on developing and rolling out a pharmaceutical waste project, which involves anything that has been contaminated with a medicine.

This includes empty medication vials, part doses, lines, needles, and syringes in a hospital setting.

They are in the process of introducing pharmaceutical waste bins across Hornsby Hospital and the district. The bins will provide a safe way for clinical staff to dispose of waste and sharps containing any medicine residues or part doses.

They will also prevent medicines from ending up in landfills and waterways, where they are toxic to animals and aquatic life. Environmental contamination with pharmaceutical waste is also detrimental to human health and contributes to the rapid development of antimicrobial resistance worldwide.

It is unsurprising that both Debbie and Sally are Net Zero leads — they are very committed personally and professionally to environmental issues. Debbie is back at university studying regenerative agriculture. 

It’s led to increasing my focus and awareness, and my need and want to do something about the planet
Pharmacist Debbie Barry

Sally comes from a farming family where she said nothing went to waste.

She also says television shows such as “War on Waste” highlight how change comes from grassroots-level initiatives and individuals on the ground and have inspired her.

“I want to be part of the difference,” she said.

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