Embracing the circular economy in aged care

Jeff Olling, Global Chief of Stakeholder Relations at iugis

In this guest post, Jeff Olling from sustainable technology company iugis, shares his views on how aged care facilities can recoup funds that would otherwise be spent on dealing with waste.

In February this year, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report laid out an extensive plan to overhaul Australia’s aged care system.  Over two years, through more than 10,500 submissions and 600 witnesses, the commissioners heard extensive evidence of a system in crisis.

The crisis is varied and deep, especially when it comes to the quality of food and its disposal within aged care facilities across the nation. In 2019, legendary chef Maggie Beer reported to the Royal Commission that meals provided to residents were often prepared with little regard to presentation or nutrition. The final report stated that as many as 68% of people receiving residential aged care are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.

The commission was also told of an “upmarket” facility which had a maggot-infested rubbish store between service trolleys and a nearby fridge containing enough rotten food to fill a trailer. In addition, it found that often food safety audits were too infrequent to ensure that bad practices were caught out. It goes without saying that rotten and maggot-infested food is a severe health hazard for all, but especially for the elderly.

Many facilities said they had to cut corners due to meagre food budgets and other costs. With Australia’s ageing population set to be approximately 6.8 million people by 2051, better ways need to be considered when it comes to the costs of running these expanding facilities.  

Equally important to running an adequate aged care facility is the need for those facilities to be run with minimal impact on our environment. This can be achieved by embracing a circular economic model.

Essentially, a circular economy is one that exchanges the typical cycle of make, use, dispose in favour of as much re-use and recycling as possible. The idea being that costs associated through waste are minimised and new revenue streams can be generated, while reducing environmental degradation through excess waste.

While there is an obvious environmental benefit for embracing a circular business model, there is also a significant financial benefit as well. Australia is the fourth highest contributor to food waste per capita in the world and food waste costs the economy an estimated $20 billion a year.

Through the circular economy model, an aged care facility could recoup funds that would traditionally be spent in dealing with waste, saving the facility, suppliers, and families’ money. Critically, it also helps to provide better quality, nutritious meals. Anything that eliminates waste and uses materials more efficiently can create cost savings and reduced waste disposal costs.

A coordinated approach towards a circular economic model is required between industry and government. Previously, changes towards sustainability have been ad-hoc. These can lead to confusion, lack of engagement, lack of senior management buy-in and ultimately a lack of will to advance and embed sustainability across the aged care sector.

Throughout the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, Australians were deeply concerned about the state of the sector and its impact on our most vulnerable. Many recommendations must be acted upon quickly in order to reform the sector. Embracing the circular economy will help to achieve financial sustainability when it comes to food waste, as well as significantly improve the health and wellbeing of elderly Australians.


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