On the journey to zero waste, little bits add up to make a real impact.

Ms Wendy Phng has a little upcycling corner near her desk where anyone who needs reusable items is welcome to them. These include paper bags and plastic containers that are usually binned.

The Senior Operations Executive in the Environmental Services Department at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) walks the talk.

“I try not to have any bins. When you become aware of what you use and throw away every day, you also become aware of what you actually consume. Then you start to minimise what you use,” said Ms Phng.

“I have become more conscious of my surroundings, the things that I do, the things that I consume, and how I can contribute to sustainability.”

Her passion for the 5Rs of zero waste (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot) is deeply entrenched in her job, which spans a broad range of tasks. Fittingly, she sits on the hospital’s sustainability movement work group to bring SGH closer towards zero waste in food, plastic and emissions, and to encourage staff and the public to reduce waste in various ways.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, fewer people were returning to SGH offices to work. The team found that as a result, fewer waste bins were needed, and initiated the Share-a-Bin drive.

“With fewer bins, staff is encouraged to dispose and recycle properly. Food waste is thrown into pantry bins, which are covered to prevent odour and pests. Paper waste is dropped into separate bins for recycling,” said Ms Phng.

Before COVID-19, Ms Phng’s everyday job involved keeping the hospital and its environment clean and safe for patients, visitors and staff alike. She ensures that hospital beds, bed linen and curtains in the wards are kept fresh and in good condition. The floors must be clean and non-slippery. Her department is also responsible for the hospital’s overall environment, so pest control and landscaping also come under their purview.

Landscaping, she said, must not only look good, but also play the important role of enhancing the patient experience. A pleasant and soothing environment helps patients relax, taking their minds off their illness.

“We also want to enhance staff and visitors’ experience and understanding of plants and trees. QR codes tagged to the trees and plants provide links to general information such as their name, species and height,” she said, noting that non-dangerous plants are specially chosen to be featured. Plants with sharp thorns and those whose leaves are poisonous are not used.

Little pockets of green oases have sprouted up on SGH Campus, notably the Bicentennial Garden, which sits in front of the SGH Museum. Some 39 tree and 57 plant species, including local fruit trees, were carefully chosen and planted. The site has also attracted a flock of wild chickens. However, no fruit or chicken can be removed from the Garden.

Recycling and other green efforts are also evident in the Garden. Food waste is saved and used to feed earthworms to produce vermicompost, a nutrient-rich organic fertiliser.

Ms Phng, who spends her free time taking her two young children cycling and hiking to explore different places in Singapore, is glad that more hospital staff have jumped onto the green bandwagon. Staff has started thinking of ways to recycle plastic packaging, used batteries, surgical instruments and disposable chopsticks, as well as making processes more energy-efficient.

“Individually, the changes we make may be quite small. But ever since I joined the sustainability work group, I have been trying to persuade everyone to do their bit. I hope to broaden my knowledge on climate change, and I want to continue my studies in environmental management and see how I can contribute better,” she said.

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