Fashion and Sustainability: How Can Medical Workers Get Involved?

Next week, I’m excited to attend LEGACY Summit, presented by Ndless: The New Normal and Fashion Revolution.

LEGACY Summit is a Responsible Fashion Summit. It will have huge talks and workshops on sustainability; ethical work practices; the health issues of the textiles and fibres we wear and consume; and the impact of fashion on our planet. Whether you’re a startup, a consultant for McKinsey (who’ll be there too!), a student, or a curious industry outsider wanting to learn more, it’ll be fantastic to attend and meet great friends sharing the same interests.

It’s incredible (and btw, heads-up for my new project below!), and I can’t wait because it’s something I don’t really get to talk about with other doctors except as a consumer.

Living in Cairns last year, everyone was very conscious of sustainable living and recycling practices. The Great Barrier Reef is on our doorstep, and Banana, Sugar Cane farmers and Daintree rainforest residents and visitors coupled with the proximity to cyclones and the isolation of rural living meant that locals were very conscious of how we could save the planet, one small step at a time.

That includes being one of the first cities in the world to promote paper straws at their bars. Kids running projects like Straw No More on Instagram have done huge things to promote international awareness. Locals were alarmed that international tourists would be served canned drinks on board the Reef ferries; and then find that plastic straws included with the cans were often dumped into our beautiful ocean!!

Coral bleaching from global warming was also a frequent topic in the Cairns Post, and even the changing lifestyle habits of crocodiles were discussed in the media as a potential consequence of global warming. (Hint: the risk is higher in the summer, or wet season in the Far North. But really, just don’t swim in the waters up there, and beware the yellow signs warning of crocs!)

Anyway, as healthcare workers, and as a doctor, I frequently find that I’m having to explain myself when I tell even close friends that I like fashion.

Yes, I love getting dressed up, I love understanding my style choices, and I LOVE understanding the impact of textiles on my own body when dressing for humidity vs frigid temps (and that’s been a frequent consideration when flying between Cairns and Victoria, the ACT and Tasmania in winter!).

But I also love global health, and the fact that the whole world, from Hong Kong Tatler to Calvin Harris to our supermarkets, is talking about sustainability. (Medical Pantry is also inspired by this!)

I think it’s silly and ignorant to dismiss fashion as frivolous. We could spend all day talking about the body shaming issues that have led many to believe this. But as the planet’s largest industry, as clinicians and healthcare workers (and social enterprise startups!), it would be amiss of us to not acknowledge fashion as an important topic that can be worked on by doctors, nurses, physios, dietitians (plant-based fibres, anyone?), podiatrists (think of the great sole materials that can be made from fabric offcuts! Think of Allbirds shoes and other cool startups!), and others in medicine and healthcare.

At any rate, our patients care. It would be wrong to not acknowledge that.

Tickets are still available for Legacy Summit. Other ways you can get involved in the conversation:

1) Attend talks like those at VAMFF (on this week!) and other local fashion festivals

2) Participate in Fashion Revolution

3) Form a blog. Yep, I’m putting together a new blog and podcast, Incredible Wearable, that will explore the intersection between fashion tech, sustainability and health. You can start by following @incrediblewearable on Instagram.

4) Advocate with your College if you’re a member. The RACP has a portal for Climate Change resources for Doctors, including links to The Lancet studies.

5) Open your mind and heart to the possibilities when you don’t silo industries and topics into separate categories. Garment workers in developing nations working in factories with poor ethical practices suffer the health consequences of these practices. Healthy eating for the planet is also an important topic that’s related. EAT Foundation is a recommended resource to get involved with.

6) Global Ideas and other global health events and forums, and webinars, and ecourses, and MOOCs (see our Resources page!) are all great ways to get involved and learn. Once we grow together, we’ll have stronger voices to advocate for all this.

What are your thoughts? How are you involved in sustainable fashion?

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 medicalpantry.org or facebook.com/medicalpantry.

All images in this article courtesy of Medical Pantry.