The Australian Startup Aiming For Zero Waste In Healthcare

Globally, there’s been increasing awareness - and action- regarding sustainability and climate change.

Healthcare is no different.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the tonnes of unused, sanitised medical supplies found in well-stocked hospitals and clinics in the developed world?

The pristine cannulas and IV drips. The instruments in the operating room. Even the surgical gloves.

Melbourne anaesthetist Dr Martin Nguyen studied this with Hospital Sustainability expert Dr Forbes McGain and their team, and was perturbed by the findings that, in one week in Melbourne, 23% of waste generated from six operating rooms was recyclable. Was it feasible to recycle this waste? The study showed that, yes, it was, both financially and with infection control integrity.

This brought Martin back to his journeys on medical missions trips, where, he says, “in isolated pockets of Vietnam, I noted these communities were in desperate need for medical supplies, but did not have connections or the resources to reach out.” Furthermore, “we discovered (through our research) that there were unused items thrown out into landfill. This practice upset many staff who were avid reducers and recyclers at home, but had to be wasteful at work. They were keen to collect and donate these supplies, but did not know where to send it to.

“This is where the inspiration for Medical Pantry came from. The Medical Pantry sits in the middle to match the needs of undeserved communities with the generosity of the givers.”

Since inception, Medical Pantry has successfully donated high quality, unused clinical goods to communities worldwide, including in Tonga and Papua New Guinea. Led by Martin and a team of eager volunteers, goods are readily donated from hospitals and clinics, and are given to recipients usually via clinicians on missions trips and other aid ventures. Goods can also be used locally; wildlife sanctuaries have benefited, along with local businesses in Victoria’s Western Health district; local clinics may run short, and mechanics find the unused, sterile kidney dishes useful! However, Martin envisages a future where tech enables donors to match recipients’ needs directly online, saving further costs, time and resources that can then be put to use expanding the reach of their work.

A hospital in Papua New Guinea using donated goods from the Medical Pantry.

A hospital in Papua New Guinea using donated goods from the Medical Pantry.

“Our ultimate goal is for the Medical Pantry to not exist at all - for there to be no waste from the healthcare system,” says Martin. “But, while there is waste, the Medical Pantry will find a second life for medical supplies and stop it heading to landfill. I hope in future, this will be a national program with collection/distribution centres in each major city in Australia. I believe the data collected will raise awareness and feedback to those in healthcare to help achieve zero healthcare waste.”

Currently, Medical Pantry is in the running for up to $100,000 in local government grants to help with more permanent warehousing, distribution and storage. (People with Victorian addresses can vote for Medical Pantry to receive funds in this grant, until 5pm, Monday 17 September.) However, to fulfil its dream of recycling goods in other cities and expanding its reach, it will need more funding and support beyond this grant. It’s amazing what impact local work can have on global health.

To reach out to Medical Pantry regarding funding or other support, please visit or

All images in this article courtesy of Medical Pantry.

Interview with Dr Linny Kimly Phuong, Founder of The Water Well Project

First published March 8, 2017


Happy International Women’s Day!

Future Paediatrician Dr Linny Kimly Phuong created The Water Well Project as a solution to the problems she saw in migrants, refugees and asylum seekers with varied degrees of health literacy. This not-for-profit runs free health education sessions for people of refugee or asylum seeker background. Volunteer healthcare professionals host education sessions on common health topics, such as healthy eating, and navigating the Australian healthcare system.

It’s a win-win for all parties. Not only do attendees regain a much-needed focus on their health, and learn what healthcare resources are available to them, particularly after traumatic life events; healthcare professionals also improve their communication skills and life perspectives by meeting people of diverse backgrounds.


Dr Linny Kimly Phuong (2nd from left) with other committee members at a City of Melbourne Awards presentation. Photo courtesy of Linny and The Water Well Project.

The Water Well Project was named to represent the safe space and traditional communal meeting place where many communities worldwide meet and talk whilst collecting water.

Through her work, Linny has gathered a great team of volunteers to help deliver sessions around Victoria; and was a state finalist for the Young Australian of the Year, all whilst completing her General Paediatrics and Paediatric Infectious Diseases training in Melbourne. If you’d like to support The Water Well Project through volunteering, donations or partnerships, please visit

We learnt about Linny’s journey below.


How did The Water Well Project begin? 

I definitely didn’t do this on my own.

And I didn’t set out to start a charity, it sort of just happened.

But I had a great group of friends and mentors who helped the idea get off the ground, and away we went.

What was the scariest thing about getting started?

Not knowing what the project was going to become.

How do you manage your time as Founder and Chair of The Water Well Project as well as your work as a Paeds ID fellow at the Royal Children’s?

Work life balance is not my friend right now. I am hoping 2017 is the year where this improves.

My clinical role is quite demanding, so I do a lot of work on the Project after hours and on weekends; and of course I have lots of helpers.

How has the Project helped you with your clinical work (and your life outside of medicine)?

Being involved with people of refugee and asylum seeker background always reminds me of the journey my parents came on to get to Australia.

In my clinical work, I have learnt how to work effectively with interpreters and better engage with individuals of refugee and asylum seeker background. I also love hearing stories about how people arrived in Australia and am always touched by their resilience.

Do you have any mentors or people you look up to for guidance or advice? Are they medical?

I am so grateful that I have had many mentors throughout my short career to date thus far. Some are medical, some are not. They all offer me differing viewpoints on life and provide me with a greater perspective on things.

How did you learn how to create a non-profit? 

A lot of reading and learning along the way!


Linny and other committee members of The Water Well Project. Photo courtesy of Linny Kimly Phuong and The Water Well Project.

What’s your biggest dream or goal for The Water Well Project?

I would love the operations of The Water Well Project to remain sustainable both logistically and financially; and for there to be a greater awareness of our organisation outside the medical arena.
My dream is that we are one day able to employ an inspirational CEO-like figure who takes on the responsibilities of maintaining and growing The Water Well Project. I would love for us to reach  those communities who would benefit most from our services, particularly those who are outside of metropolitan Melbourne.

Any advice for others wanting to create a non-profit or social enterprise? 

Do your research in finding out who you can work with within your desired sector. The best projects are collaborative and do not create unnecessary duplication.

How can people get involved with The Water Well Project, whether they are doctors or not?  

People can get involved in a number of ways- they can volunteer as healthcare professionals, contribute their skills in other support roles or make a donation to The Water Well Project.

To find out more about The Water Well Project’s upcoming events, please visit