A NSW Government website


Greening the NICU

Baby Steps to a Sustainable Future

Recycling baby bottles, bamboo nappies and re-purposing old equipment

The Sustainability Action Group at John Hunter Hospital (JHH) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) are making changes to reduce their environmental impact and support the Hunter New England Local Health District’s plan to be carbon and waste neutral by 2030.

JHH NICU are recycling single use baby bottles, procuring more sustainable disposable nappies and repurposing old equipment. The initiatives implemented at JHH NICU have the scope to be transferrable to other maternity and paediatric services across NSW Health.

John Hunter Hospital (JHH) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) were sending ~100,000 single use baby bottles to landfill per year. Single use baby bottles are made from polypropylene. This a highly recyclable polymer with a valuable end market in Australia.

JHH partnered with Plasmar who have capacity to re-process the polypropylene baby bottles into fence posts and sleepers. A meticulous process for collection and preparation of the baby bottles was established by the Sustainability Action Group in NICU. Staff are engaged and motivated by the success of the program and the process is now embedded in the operation of the unit.

Since the implementation of the baby bottle recycling program in 2021, JHH NICU have diverted approximately 200,000 single use plastic baby bottles from landfill equating to 5 tonnes of plastic. The program has now extended to the maternity ward and paediatric wards at JHH.

JHH NICU use ~95,000 disposable nappies per year contributing 20 tonnes to landfill each year – comparable to the size of 3 African elephants! Due to the high plastic content in traditional disposable nappies, the decomposition rate in landfill is estimated to be 500 years.

Disposable nappies are convenient for new parents and a busy NICU. They also have moisture wicking properties which protects fragile newborn skin and helps to maintain temperature. The JHH NICU Sustainability Action Group set about investigating disposable nappy alternatives that have less impact on the environment. The team tested and reviewed a range of eco-credentialled disposable nappies based on set criteria: sizing range, biodegradability, sustainably sourced materials, packaging materials, supply mileage and cost. One brand of disposable nappy satisfied all criteria and the team negotiated a competitive price with the supplier.

The more sustainable nappy is made from 70% biodegradable content which expedites the decomposition rate in landfill to ~45 days.

JHH NICU requires incubators, humidicribs and overhead warmers to deliver optimal clinical care. As equipment reaches end of warranty or when new technology is procured, the equipment is decommissioned. Rather than sending these items to landfill, JHH NICU has partnered with local organisations who are able to re-distribute and re-purpose the equipment items. In 2023, JHH NICU has donated:

As well as assisting HNELHD to meet their target of waste neutrality by 2030, this initiative distributes valuable resources to organisations in need.

If you have any questions relating to the ‘Greening the NICU’ Project please contact:

HNELHD NICU Clinical Nurse Consultant / Sustainability Champion: Justine Parsons at Justine.Parsons@health.nsw.gov.au

If you have any questions relating to the HNELHD Sustainability Strategy or other Sustainability Projects please don’t hesitate to contact:

HNELHD Sustainability Project Team at HNELHD-SustainableHealthcare2030@health.nsw.gov.au