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Global warning

With New Year approaching, now is the time to plan resolutions. Why not help to make the future greener, suggests Jane Hobden

Environmental issues are the biggest global challenge that we face. At home, many of us recycle paper, cardboard, glass, aluminium cans and other goods through local schemes. But what can physiotherapists do to make their workplaces greener? In the UK, we currently produce more waste and recycle less than the rest of Europe, with the average person throwing out their body weight in rubbish every three months. Most of it goes into landfill sites - which causes health problems in the local community, pollutes water supplies and releases methane, adding to climate change by heating up the planet. The waste is also burnt in incinerators, producing toxic air pollution, and ash - which then ends up in landfill. CSP's web editor Michael Jefford set up the Society's informal staff group, known as the 'green guardians', raising awareness of the issues at the CSP's London office. 'The planet is in a dire state, and if changes are to happen in the workplace as well as in the home, then organisations such as CSP need to lead by example,' he says. We all contribute to the problems, both as consumers of energy and resources, and then as disposers of unwanted products, he explains. Hence, we all need to reduce our environmental impact, or 'ecological footprint'. Environmental campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth continue to urge people to reduce, reuse and recyle. 'While it's good to recycle, it's better to reuse and better still to reduce altogether', says Michael, 'because recycling itself uses energy.' His tips include using recycling bins for white and coloured paper, using a coffee mug rather than a plastic beaker, switching off lights at the end of the day and shutting down the PC. Physiotherapists in practice also need to think about ways of reducing waste, recycling and cutting down on disposable items, although Michael admits that there are wider problems which need to be addressed. 'Within the NHS, the fear of infection means that there is a huge emphasis on buying disposable items and throwing away, which needs to be tackled in some way.' Reusing equipment is something to which Archie Hinchcliffe feels fully committed. As a physiotherapist who has worked regularly for the past 20 years in Africa and the Middle East, she is aware of the need for equipment such as wheelchairs, walking frames and crutches in poor countries. 'There is a moral obligation to reuse expensive kit, but it should not be dumped where it cannot be properly used and allocated,' she stresses. Instead, it should go to places where there are well-equipped workshops employing local people who have been trained to adapt, repair and maintain equipment. Archie is public relations officer for the International Support Group for Chartered Physiotherapists (ISG4CP) and also edits the group's newsletter. The March issue focused on donating equipment to poorer countries. Receiving countries need considerable resources as well as workshops, with trained physios to match the equipment to the user, adequate storage space, and good transport. Last year Archie was involved in producing the CSP paper, Where to Send Donations of Physiotherapy Related Books, Journals and Other Materials (see below for how to get your free copy). As it is important to be responsible about recycling and not create more difficulties, this publication gives information on organisations that take donated items. The Christian African Relief Trust, for example, accepts office and household equipment in working order, as well as medical equipment, books and journals. Book Aid International works in 30 of the world's poorest countries, providing over half a million books and journals each year to libraries, hospitals, schools and refugee camps (see useful contacts for further details). Equipment is particularly useful in less well resourced areas of the world if it is adjustable, robustly made, in good working order, repairable (at reasonable cost) and culturally appropriate, stresses the paper. Hence, it is worth asking a few questions when contacting an organisation, especially if donating wheelchairs, says Archie. Global warming was the subject of a motion carried at the CSP's Annual Representative Conference this year which called on the Society to actively lobby government and, as part of its affiliation to the TUC, to become a lead within the TUC in campaigning on global warming. The TUC already actively campaigns on global warming and other environment issues, in part because of the implications for jobs in sectors such as mining and manufacturing. The TUC report Greening the workplace aims to encourage trade unions to tackle the growing challenge of climate change. Given the huge changes that we could all make, do we have a choice as to whether or not to go green? Michael Jefford thinks not. 'This is the most urgent issue that the globe faces. It is only by changing our behaviour and taking responsibility for the environment that we can perhaps reverse the terrible trends that we are seeing and preserve the planet for future generations - what could be more important than that?'

Useful contacts and weblinks

Green practice brings business award for Lorna

For Dundee-based physio Lorna Seath, introducing 'green' policies in her private practice was a natural extension of her commitment to recycling at home wherever possible. 'Given the environmental crisis we face, every person on earth needs to do something, no matter how small,' Lorna says. One of her top tips is to buy massage oil and ultrasound gel in five-litre containers, using a smaller container to decant the oil or gel as needed. 'This avoids buying endless small containers as well as cutting down on cost. Once the big containers are used, I rinse them out and use them as water containers in my greenhouse.' She also has equipment repaired wherever possible and uses rechargeable batteries for her TENS machine. Another tip is to have a paper recycling box on the desk for old papers, journals and catalogues. She also uses different coloured bins for plastic and alumininium cans. Old computer printouts make handy scrap paper for notes and phone messages, and items like envelopes and paperclips are reused. Last year, Lorna Seath's commitment won her a silver Tidy Business Standards Award from South Lanarkshire Council. Our picture (left) shows her receiving the award from Robert Howe, the authority's head of service for environmental health. The award - for local businesses who deal effectively with waste and are committed to recycling - is a talking point with patients. 'Perhaps it helps them feel able to do their bit, too,' she says.

How environmentally friendly are you?

Do you:

  • use as little paper as possible, for example relying on email rather than memos, letters and faxes, setting photocopiers to double-sided copying, using scrap paper in the fax machine?
  • recycle all paper including computer printouts, catalogues, magazines and newspapers?
  • have different coloured bins for different items for recycling, eg plastic, aluminium, glass, paper?
  • reuse paper clips, old envelopes and jiffy bags?
  • recycle toner cartridges and mobile phones?
  • buy recycled paper and stationery, or if working for a bigger organisation, urge those responsible to switch to recycled paper?
  • use china cups and plates rather than plastic or paper?
  • switch off lights, turn down thermostats and use long-life lightbulbs? (but consider leaving fluorescent lights on until the end of the day; start-up uses a lot of energy)
  • switch off computers and other appliances at the end of the day?
  • buy items such as massage oil and ultrasound gel in bulk, and decant as needed?
  • offer to donate unwanted books and journals, instead of binning or recycling?
  • donate old furniture and equipment where appropriate?
  • use biodegradable dustbin liners?
  • cycle or walk to work or appointments when practicable?
  • promote yourselves as a green office, department of practice?
  • ask suppliers to cut out unnecessary packaging and paperwork?
  • buy items that will last - and avoid 'disposables'?
  • look for other ways of avoiding waste by brainstorming with colleagues?

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Article Information

Issue date

16 November 2005

Volume number

11

Issue number

22

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