Sustainable healthcare case study: Greening the NICU at John Hunter Children’s Hospital

Friday 21 June 2024

The John Hunter Hospital (JHH) and John Hunter Children's Hospital (JHCH) is a tertiary referral hospital located in Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia. With a staffing cohort of over 16,000, and 800 beds (including 124 beds for the JHCH), the hospital is home to one of the busiest emergency departments in Australia. 

The Problem:

A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) has a significant carbon footprint and generates a large amount of waste. This waste is typically attributed to large quantities of single-use consumables, high energy and water requirements, and an increased use of pharmaceuticals. Moreover, most of these single-use consumables are made from, and packaged in, plastics.


  • Reduce waste going to landfill
  • Reduce carbon footprint of the NICU

The process:

In 2020, the NICU at JHCH formed a sustainability action group which was responsible for identifying potential sustainability projects, and then developing each project using measurable goal setting. A few of their priorities are as follows:

  • Single-use plastic infant feeding bottles were recycled and remanufactured into usable products such as retaining walls, garden beds, and fence posts
  • High plastic content disposable nappies were replaced with greener nappy alternatives, bringing down decomposition rates from 500 years (traditional nappies) to 45 days (Eco-nappies)
  • Diverting stainless steel such as single-use scissors and forceps from landfill, to metal recycling vendors
  • Diverting larger pieces of decommissioned equipment away from landfill and repurposing them for use in external organisations
  • Raising awareness of correct recycling practices through periodic waste audits, and staff education

Recycling vendor collecting baler bags of plastic baby bottles

Recycling vendor collecting baler bags of plastic baby bottles

The outcome:

To date, it is estimated that the NICU Sustainability Action Group has diverted 5 tonnes of plastic from landfill into recycled products. Eco-nappies are now the primary product used in NICU and have reduced the unit’s carbon footprint due to the compostability of the nappies. Parents have also been introduced to the concept of compostable nappies and it is hoped that many of them will continue to use these products upon discharge.

Within the NICU, over 200 nursing staff, and 20 medical staff have received education on environmental impacts of healthcare, along with different sustainability projects undertaken by the NICU.

This full case study is available to GGHH members via GGHH Connect.

Congratulations John Hunter Children's Hospital! Thank you for your sustainable healthcare leadership!