AUSTRALIA'S hospitals, the effluents from which can range from drug-resistant pathogens to infected medical waste, are joining an international ''green hospital'' movement to promote environmental health.
The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association signs today on to a 5000-strong global network aimed at reducing hospital waste and minimising use of harmful chemicals.
The Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Agenda seeks to build on worldwide developments to make health systems more sustainable, lowering hospitals' waste production and their use of energy, water and chemicals.
The agenda document said paradoxically the health sector contributed to the environmental health problems flowing from climate change, chemical contamination and unsustainable resource use.
It proposed numerous initiatives to make hospitals healthier for patients and the environment. Hospitals are estimated to consume about twice as much energy per square metre as a typical office building, because of their power-hungry equipment and 24/7 operation.
Countries including Australia have demonstrated how basic measures can cut energy consumption, said the agenda document, which supported solar and wind generation.
Health facilities could cut disposal costs by better segregation of infectious waste, which accounts for less than 25 per cent of all waste, with only a fraction being sensitive or hazardous, such as sharps, infective material and anatomical wastes.
A hospital waste expert, Trevor Thornton, who lectures in waste management at Deakin University, said Australia had reasonably strong regulation of medical waste disposal, although some states including NSW have had instances of potentially infectious waste from rural hospitals going into landfill. This seemed to happen because of the extra cost of medical waste disposal, he said.
Ms Fiona Armstrong, convener of the Climate and Health Alliance, said hospitals had a big ''environmental footprint'' but many were finding that sustainability measures benefit patients and the environment and offer financial savings.