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One Less Plastic Project

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How cutlery is key to the Royal Columbian Hospital reducing single-use plastic waste

What difference does a spoon make? On its own, a disposable spoon might feel like a drop in the barrel, but the Royal Columbian Hospital’s Food Service Department realized that changing how they used this one, everyday piece of cutlery could lead to positive environmental impacts.

Typically, nursing units use single-use plastic spoons to give medication and snacks to patients. After use, these spoons end up in the landfill. When Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) tracked their spoon usage, they discovered that 229,000 disposable plastic spoons were brought into RCH between August 2020 and July 2021.

The ”One Less Plastic Project,” led by Regional Manager of Food Operations Elaine Chu, was piloted in August 2021 with nursing unit 4N. Collaborating with 4N and 4S’s Clinical Manager Irene Cheung, the nursing unit began deploying reusable metal spoons from Food Services instead of single-use alternatives.

After patient use, the metal spoons were collected and replenished with clean ones daily. In one month, the One Less Plastic Project resulted in 4N sending 600 fewer spoons to the landfill; in a year, 7,000 fewer spoons would end up in landfills.

Despite the environmental benefits of reducing single-use plastic waste, the implementation of “One Less Plastic” had its obstacles and setbacks. During the first month of switching to reusable spoons on 4N, 30 metal spoons ($0.38/each) were lost, which cost significantly more relative to the 600 plastic spoons ($0.013/each) saved. As well, while most staff were positive about helping the environment by switching to reusable spoons, some were concerned about the extra work managing the new process.

If the project scales up, the costs of replacing metal spoons and the labour to clean and replenish them daily will need to be accounted for. In the long run, policy change, process redesign and staff education are crucial in reducing single use plastic waste.

Following the pilot on 4N, the project expanded and was adopted by the Speech and Language Pathology team and nursing units 5N and 5S a few months after. Though plastic disposable items are cheap and convenient, health care’s negative impacts on the environment are more costly and unmanageable if left unchecked. Even a spoonful of change can go a long way.