Seeing green: Unity Health Toronto implements various sustainability initiatives

By Selma Al-Samarrai

First the plastic straws went. Then it was Styrofoam and plastic materials such as utensils, take-out containers, soup bowls and lids, coffee cups and lids, stir sticks, and plates. Compost bins and a cooking-oil recycling project were also implemented.

St. Joseph’s Health Centre’s cafeteria, named the Lakeside Café, has launched numerous initiatives to significantly reduce the amount of landfill waste produced and become a more sustainable and environmentally friendly place of service.


“It was sad to see so much Styrofoam and plastic going in the garbage every day,” explained Dayalan Thevathasan, manager of Hospitality Services for St. Joseph’s.

“With the encouragement and support of the Green Committee, we decided it was time to reduce our impact on the environment. We started by eliminating plastic straws and then felt there was a lot more that we could do, so we followed with all of these recent changes.”

Organic waste bins have also been added where staff, patients and visitors can now dispose of food waste and compostable materials.

Prior to integrating, each of Unity Health Toronto’s three sites — which also include Providence Healthcare and St. Michael’s Hospital — had its own respective Green Committee. A new group for the network now meets every six weeks to discuss ongoing initiatives and identify new opportunities for sustainability and greening measures.

The group is comprised of the network’s Project Engineering, Environmental Services and Hospitality Services teams, along with staff anaesthesiologist Dr. Syed Ali Abbass, whose ongoing work to implement sustainability measures at St. Joseph’s has earned him the additional title of Chief of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability.

“I’m very pleased that this initiative has been implemented in Lakeside Café. We all know we generate a tremendous amount of waste at a hospital and we need to be able to reduce and separate our waste properly, and subsequently, our environmental impact,” said Dr. Abbass.

“As a physician, I always tell my trainees that we have to broaden our mandate. We take care of our patients, but we also have to expand that to do right by our communities and our planet. Sustainable practices and mitigating the effects of climate change all directly relate to public and community health.”

One knee surgery results in more waste than a family of four will generate in a week, according to Dr. Abbass. He emphasizes that if we compost and recycle at home, we should be doing the same at work where the impact of our sustainability practices is even larger.

The Green Committee works on a large variety of initiatives that include recently implementing clinical recycling network-wide, eliminating water bottles in the network’s three cafeterias and catering services, harmonizing waste management across the three sites, and completing a number of energy efficiency projects such as the installation of LED lighting.

Thevathasan is optimistic that the newly implemented changes in the St. Joseph’s cafeteria will be part of an ongoing culture of sustainability at Unity Health Toronto.

“I am hoping that this movement will spread throughout the network to different units and areas, and that it will also make all staff and visitors more conscious of sustainability in general, wherever they are. If we all change our habits even a little bit, it can make a big difference for future generations,” said Thevathasan.

Selma Al-Samarrai is a Communications Advisor at Unity Health Toronto