Ambulance Victoria’s Jo Algie is rolling up her sleeves for a recycling program that is all about taking less from the planet and giving more to the community.
When Jo Algie decided to do something about a bunch of uniforms left lying around, she had no idea it would be the catalyst for a project now stretching across Australia and uniting medical teams in Thailand and Vanuatu.
The Ambulance Victoria Advanced Life Support (ALS) paramedic and team manager describes her “crazy little project” as getting “bigger than Ben Hur”.
More than two years after starting the uniform recycling program, Jo and a team of volunteers have saved thousands of uniforms from going to landfill. In 2021 alone, 15,000 items had been donated, recycled or rehomed.
“When you look at some of the things people do to save the world, ours is just a recycling project,” Jo says. “Two and a half years since we started, I would have thought it would slow down, but it hasn’t. Each day deliveries are coming in.
“We’ve got so many people on board now. We’ve had contact from paramedics in almost every state of Australia asking what they can do.”
In 2021, Jo was crowned community champion in the waste reduction and the circular economy category of the Premier’s Sustainability Awards for her efforts in starting the program. She is quick to point out that the program’s success is because of the “community” that supports it – from Ambulance Victoria to Lions and Rotary clubs and scores of volunteers.
“Ambulance Victoria management has been very supportive, and my branch has been amazing. There’s a lot of people that are helping,” Jo says.
“The community involvement has been huge. We’ve had amazing support from local Rotary and Lions groups in Drouin and Warragul. Before COVID-19 we had some real fun days. We set up camp chairs in garages and just sat chatting and de-badging uniforms. It was so much fun.”
Uniforms have been sent to help students at an Indigenous school in the Northern Territory, a Syrian refugee camp, Chisholm institute to help apprentice tradies and as part of a farm relief package following the 2019-20 Victorian and New South Wales bushfires.
Some uniforms are donated to Ambulance Victoria auxiliaries to be sold in local op shops, which often donate money back to ambulance branches to buy equipment. More recently, uniforms were used to dress a ‘surge workforce’. Hundreds of volunteers from agencies including SES, St John Ambulance, Life Saving Victoria, Chevra Hatzolah, CFA and the Red Cross have been working alongside paramedics so they can continue providing the best care to the record numbers of Victorians in need throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any clothing not suitable for donation is shredded and made into road base by a Victorian company.
“Most of it is really good-quality stuff that has a little bit more life in it before it has to end,” Jo says. “Anything that can’t be salvaged will be sent to be made into road base. We shouldn’t have to throw anything out, someone will be able to use it.”
One of the first donations the uniform recycling program made was a box of lightweight fluoro vests to a volunteer ambulance station in Thailand. Jo says it was “pretty much all the uniform they’d ever had”. She’s hoping to expand the program to donate out-of-date stores such as neck collars and oxygen masks to volunteer-run ambulance and hospitals in the Philippines.
An Ambulance Victoria workforce noticeboard has been set up to facilitate donations. Ultimately, Jo hopes to set up an Australia-wide network.
“It’s a win-win, especially being able to rehome uniforms. Whether it’s someone in Ambulance Victoria, an apprentice tradie or an Indigenous student, we’ve been able to give uniforms a new home and stop them going into landfill,” she says. “Everyone helping and doing their bit has made it work. Who knows where it will go.”
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