An estimated 2.7 million plastic syringes and needles and several million prescription pill bottles could be saved every year in Canada if each of its veterinarian clinics took the same steps one B.C. vet technician has.
Since October 2021, Jocelyn Marsh has had the South Burnaby Veterinary Hospital where she works significantly reducing its waste. She’s tackled the problem in two ways: launching a pill bottle recycling program and changing the way they conduct audits of controlled injectable substances.
Marsh estimates her clinic dispenses 10 to 20 new pill bottles every week, or 520 to 1,040 a year. With 3,407 vet clinics registered in Canada, around 1.8 million to 3.5 million plastic pill bottles are likely given out to pet owners each year.
Marsh is slowly reducing this number though, and inspiring others to do the same. She runs an optional pill bottle return program at her clinic, where clients can sign up to bring back their pets’ empty medication bottles and simply have them refilled instead of replaced with new ones.
If the client needs a new type of medication, or if the pill bottle has any residue, Marsh soaks them in an antibacterial solution, removes their old labels and lets them air dry overnight. In exchange for returning their bottles, clients are given a dispensing discount.
So far, Marsh says they have around two pill bottles returned a week, amounting to over 100 in a year.
The second way she’s reducing plastic consumption is by switching the way the clinic conducts weekly audits of its controlled substances. Instead of using a fresh syringe and needle to measure how much of each substance is left, Marsh has vets and vet technicians using a scale to weigh the change in volume. She estimates it saves them about 800 syringes and needles a year.
It also saves time and money, Marsh says, estimating the new process takes half as long as the original one.
Since implementing the changes in her own clinic, Marsh says she’s inspired two others in Metro Vancouver and one other in Kamloops to follow suit. And she has plans to expand her initiative, the Love Our Oceans Project, even further.
On July 13, Marsh was announced as the second place winner of the Ocean Wise Innovator Lab for youth tackling plastic pollution. Her TikTok channel for the project has nearly 2,000 followers and 33,ooo likes. Marsh uses the platform to spread awareness and bring more vets onboard.
“Plastic waste is huge. It affects our ecosystems, it affects our health and it kind of impacts the future of everything,” Marsh says. “It’s just something that whether you look at it or not yourself, if it affects you directly.”
Her clinic also recycles empty IV bags into weather-proof socks to covered pets’ bandaged paws and IV lines into endotracheal tube ties.
Marsh says she knows the changes seem small, but that getting the ball rolling in one area inevitably gets it moving in others. She says some of the pet owners she sees are nurses and they’ve discussed implementing similar waste-reduction strategies into human medical care.
“It might be a small idea, but it really does cause a snowball effect.”