Why Sustainability Matters
"If we focused, we could probably reuse most things in life"
With sustainability being such an integral part of Sharpsmart’s vision and core practices of clinical waste management, we felt it was important to understand the reason behinds its green focus. Dan Daniels, our company founder, offered us some insight into why Sharpsmart has chosen reusability to be centred in its healthcare solutions.
How did your upbringing influence your passion for sustainability?
I went to a village as a child and saw firsthand poverty that existed in a poor village in a poor country; this was an experience that marked me for life.
I had the realisation at a very young age that we are very privileged in the west and there is so much we take for granted… in this village, they were struggling for the most basic of human essentials, even water.
The perspective I gained from this village experience caused me to question our throw-away society. Why would you buy something and then throw it out after a single use? Why would you buy a new car when you could buy a secondhand car and fix it up? I felt as a child that this thought process set me apart as a little strange in front of my peers, but then and now, reusability remains a very strong part of my DNA. I actually still run in the same tracksuit I bought in college, my kids are a little embarrassed, but I would rather look like a dork and reuse something than pollute the environment.
How have your environmental ideals influenced the vision and practices of Sharpsmart worldwide?
When I started Sharpsmart in the late eighties, I was fighting a trend; there were 54 clinical waste and sharps container companies in the world. They were making disposable sharps containers, and I was creating the only reusable sharps container that I knew of. If it’s disposable, by nature it has to be cheap, and the only way I knew I could create something of quality and safety that I would not have to compromise on would be to create a product that could be reused.
I was very fortunate. In the late 80’s, Greenpeace was creating a bit of noise and I had a minority of 2-5% of people in hospitals that were environmentally aware and wanted to support my vision. Despite its green acclaim, recycling is much more damaging to the environment than reusing. In our industry, to recycle a product you need to put it in a truck, the truck requires fuel to drive to a depot, the depot has to separate the waste, then each item has to be melted and reformed into a new product; the energy that it takes to do this is enormous.
I feel proud today that our business attracts people that are naturally wired to be environmentally conscious; therefore it’s our team worldwide that embody and carry our purpose, not just me.
How has the industry changed to be more sustainable?
In the 70's and 80’s, all clinical waste was incinerated at hospital sites; back in the 80's, America alone would have had 4,000-5,000 hospital incinerators. For us in Australia, it took us 4 years to change perception that all infectious and offensive waste needed to be incinerated; when we introduced a grinding and sterilisation method that replaced incineration, everyone thought we were crazy. However, fast-forward 20 years, today there wouldn’t be 10 hospital incinerators left in America.
How do you translate your sustainable views at home?
Society has been conditioned over the last 30 years to accept that convenience demands us to be a disposable society, I have never bought into that. My views are not quite the same as my wife, when our kids were younger I wanted to recycle diapers but that wasn’t an option, I wanted to compost at home but my wife was scared of mice. I haven’t been able to put into practice all of my green ideals, but small things like turning lights off, reusing hotel towels, conserving air conditioning, these are all things I’m very conscious of actioning in my day to day.
What can we do better to reduce our environmental burden?
Everything you have in life is a resource. I make my own coffee each day, using the same utensils; I don’t use takeaway cups, I don’t use disposable pods. This is a very small step towards ecology, but I take the view that if everyone made just a few small changes in their day-to-day towards reusability, it would make a huge difference.
Just imagine if everyone took a reusable cup to a coffee shop, we could save millions of plastic cups being made. Convenience should not come at the expense of our environment.