The Ethical Paediatric Trainee

Back in August 2015, we posted a piece on child labour and whether we as paediatric trainees have a moral obligation to be more mindful of where or more more accurately whom we purchase our clothes from. The world of ethical fashion environmentalism can be overwhelming and you can’t save the world alone but my thinking here is - most people I know will by free range eggs vs. eggs from caged hens so why can’t we apply similar ethical principles when it comes to clothing or the environment, but this time protecting humans not chickens.  


So, how easy is it to personally change your ways to become a more ethical and mindful trainee in order to help others and the environment.  The first stop for you all would be to watch the documentary ‘The True Cost’ which delves into the the scrupulous practises of many brands responsible for the terrible death toll in the Rana Plaza tragedy. It’s actually a very thought full and informative documentary free from any patronising ‘hippy’ preaching’s that I admittedly associated with anyone who mentioned the words ‘ethical fashion’ in the past.  Since watching the true cost, I can no longer shop in H&M and now check the ethical policies of every brand I’m thinking of buying from – it’s quite easy, most of them will have a statement on their policies on their websites, or a quick google search will bring up a lot of info from independent sites. The other thing about fast fashion, although easy on your wallet in the short term (less so on your soul), the clothes aren’t made to last, so you end up spending more as they need replacing sooner and they are so cheap you’ll likely buy more than you need.  An estimated £100 million worth of of used clothing goes to landfill each year in the UK; that’s a whole load of carbon, water and waste footprints.


It’s not just clothes that are harming either people or the environment.  Let’s look at plastic.  Plastic, I have learnt is extremely difficult to recycle, particularly the disposable coffee cups from stores such as Costa, Starbuck etc. If you’ve ever worked in a hospital, chances are you’ve made your way through quite a few of those cups (me included), but did you know – Approx. 3 billion disposable cups are used in the UK per year of which less than 1% get recycled (the actual figure is thought to be 0.1%).  This is partly because those three arrows that indicate that the cup is recyclable is misleading.  Don’t believe me? Read these articles from the Guardian, Telegraph, Metro.  


There’s a lot more that we send to landfill beyond clothes and plastic disposable cups but it’s a start, especially for busy paediatric trainees as yourselves. Landfill waste also has implications for our health; if you have the time, take a look at the government publication ‘Impact on Health of Emissions from Landfill sites’ or more relevant to paediatrics ‘Birth defect risks from landfill sites’.  Back in the early 00’s, very close to where I grew up in the Welsh Valleys, there was concern that living close to a particular landfill site was the cause of birth defects and in 2001 the BMJ published research that found a 1% higher risk of birth defects in babies born near landfill sites.  A report into my local site found no causal evidence of birth defects but the site was closed and an undisclosed sum was paid to residents due to a series of health problems suffered by the people living near it.  


So what changes can you make?  If you type in the words ‘zero waste’ or ‘minimalist’ you will find a whole load of people proudly showing you their years’ worth of landfill waste fitting neatly into one small mason jar or their sparse wardrobes which only contain 33 items including shoes.  A bit extreme and perhaps unnecessary but something to think about, in terms of reducing our buying habits and contribution to landfill.  


My suggestions from my own research are:


  • Watch ‘The true Cost’ (it’s on Netflix) and make your own mind up about buying very cheap clothes, if you can’t be bothered then watch this short clip by John Oliver on YouTube instead.

  • Avoid the repeat offenders until they truly do start giving a shit about the safety of the people who make their clothes (GAP and HM to name a few)

  • Donate your unwanted clothes, make up and toiletries.  The good stuff you can sell if you have the energy, the rest you can give to a charity shop. For a while I was stuck on what to do with socks and undies – but even these can have a second home (washed and clean obviously); Refuge and Women’s Aid accept pretty much everything second hand for women and children who have nothing, including lightly used makeup etc. For more info check out Caroline Hirons ‘Give and Make up’

  • Buy a re-useable coffee cup and re-use it. All leading high street coffee chains (many of whom have branches in UK Hospitals) will allow customers to bring their own cups (they just don’t advertise it very well)

  • Buy things in glass rather than plastic, glass is a lot easier to recycle

  • Make a packed lunch for work – minimise food waste, save money & reduce the amount of food packaging.

  • Just stop buying so much shit.  You don’t need it. Really, you don’t. If you spend just a little bit of time going through all the stuff that you own, you will quickly realise you have way more stuff than you will ever need or use, so stop adding to it.  Think of the money you could save.

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