Travel, Recycle, Save Lives

Do you love adventure travel? I mean real travel, the kind that gets you muddy and off the beaten path in the developing world. Well, then you should consider Not Just Tourists. This organization collects medical supplies from UHN and other partners, packs them into suitcases, and sends them with travelers (such as yourself) to remote clinics in need. The organization is 100% volunteer based and has been operating for the past 33 years. The Toronto chapter has sent about 2,000 suitcases to 75 different countries and has helped connect over 750,000 lbs of medical supplies and equipment to the developing world via aid containers. 

Avi D’Souza, the Program Director and Founder of Not Just Tourists Toronto (NJTT) just came back from a trip to a small island off the coast of Madagascar where he delivered medical supplies.

Suitcase filled with good medical supplies that would have been wasted in North America

“Greetings UHN Friends! I just came back 2 weeks ago from the most amazing trip to Mauritius and Nosy Be, Madagascar. Knowing that Mauritius was quite developed, I opted to take an NJT suitcase to Madagascar. Nosy Be is considered the tourist hub and island jewl of Madagascar. It is also known for spectacular diving with some of the most untouched reef in the world and plenty of whale sharks and humpbacks around. Travelling from the airport, there were significant levels of poverty, and the infrastructure could definitely use support. I was carrying a suitcase loaded witch bandages, gauze, tapes, gloves, IV kits, urinary kits, 3 stethoscopes and 1 Otoscope.  

suitcase to medical clinic in Madagascar

By speaking to locals, I was able to find a small children’s clinic, which desperately needed the supplies (Note – for NJT volunteers, you will have a prearranged donation site, you don’t have to source this yourself). Upon arriving, I could see a line of mothers and their children waiting to enter the small facility. The supplies were gratefully received by the doctor and I was told about the supply shortages which leave them unable to treat patients at times. They were especially happy with the brand new children’s stethoscope which we delivered.  The delivery was the best thing I did on my vacation!


The bigger idea behind NJT is for travellers to step outside their comfort zones and connect with locals, forming deeper relationships. The project is about LOVE! NJT is also as much about the environment as we are about humanitarian work. Many of the supplies, which are sealed and in perfect condition, would otherwise have been thrown out. 

Medical supplies have a wonderful new home

UHN has been a great supporter of our work and we are very grateful to have you as partners!


Avi D’Souza

Program Director, Not Just Tourists Toronto”

If you are travelling anywhere in the developing world, sign up to take a suitcase via their website If you are free on a Wednesday evening, feel free to drop by 240 Roncesvales Ave to help them sort and pack medical supplies



One nurse’s story on saving supplies and lives

As you know from last weeks’ post, See It Shine … around the world, one of our favorite kinds of reuse is getting surplus medical supplies to global communities in need. Not only does it help humanitarian efforts, it also helps the environment, diverting materials from landfill (and the landfill fees that are better spent on patient care). That’s a win-win-win in anyone’s book.

UHN News has just profiled Ruth Turner, a nurse at Princess Margaret who volunteers her time to do just that.

Ruth Turner

Ruth Turner holds a bag of medical supplies to donate to Not Just Tourists. As she spreads the word to other colleagues at the cancer centre, bags like these are often left outside her door from groups that have begun collecting. (Photo: Not Just Tourists)

Continue reading

Nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day” like a new bed (or 150)

With the most romantic holiday of the year right around the corner, we at Talkin’ Trash have beds on the brain. Granted, the beds in question do not have a sleep number, pillowtop or memory foam, but they are really, really good when you’re not feeling so well.

You see, we’re getting new beds for our patients. They spend a whole lot of time in them so it’s nice to have an upgrade. That means around 150 still-good hospital beds from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Toronto General Hospital need to find a new home.

Hospital beds with heart :)

Hospital beds with heart :). Bed image credit: ugraphicdotcom

As we’ve mentioned in Dynamic Duo: Operation Green and Not Just Tourists, it’s way better to Continue reading

Dynamic Duo: Operation Green & Not Just Tourists

Batman & Robin, Laverne & Shirley, Peanut Butter & Jam, Peanut Butter & Chocolate, Peanut Butter & anything, really … these are all dynamic duos. Whether fighting crime, getting into crazy hi-jinx, or tasting truly awesome, these duos are more together than the sum of their parts. Very Gestalt.

Sometimes in life, we make just such a great pairing. Such is the case for Operation Green and a nifty NGO called Not Just Tourists.

Operation Green supplies reach Cuba thanks to Margo from our own PMH Foundation! She carried a suitcase for Not Just Tourists.

Operation Green supplies reach Cuba thanks to Margo from our own PMH Foundation! She carried a suitcase for Not Just Tourists.

Continue reading

Olga Muir, Waste Warrior


Olga Muir, Nurse Manager TWH

When people think about being green, often the first thing that comes to mind is recycling. And though recycling is a favourite of ours, even better is the first of the 3 R’s (points if you yelled out “Reduce!” while reading this). I’ll introduce you to the UHN Jedi-master of reduction, our very own Olga Muir. Olga has made it part of her life’s work to ensure all her staff really think about each and every medical supply they carry into a patient’s room.

When something goes into a patient’s room, generally that’s its last stop. Medical supplies are very monogamous that way. If supplies go in that don’t get used, we not only need to buy those supplies again for the next patient, (here’s the insult-to-injury part) we pay to throw out good stuff we’ve wasted. As the Continue reading

The Great Case for Babies and Bathwater

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Like most expressions, though we know what it means…don’t throw out the good with the bad… we usually have no idea who started saying it or why.

Back in the olden, golden days when water, hot or otherwise, was scarce, bath time was a very shared family event. After fetching the water, boiling it and filling the cast-iron tub, the father of the household usually had first dibs (it was the olden days after all). After he scrubbed off weeks, months or years of muck, the rest of the family had their turn (do I hear a collective eeeewww?). Finally, the baby was bathed in the nastiest, murkiest, darkest of waters. The baby was pretty well-disguised in all that debris, and thus the expression was born.

There’s a handy little group, Operation Green, that’s taking this principle to heart by salvaging some really great stuff from our otherwise icky operating room waste. This great stuff is called “Surgical Overage”, items that were readied for surgery but never used, only to be sadly discarded. Not only does Operation Green keep these valuable supplies out of landfill, or worse…the incinerator, they ship it to developing countries that hardly have two bandaids to rub together. Now these countries have access to clean gloves, sutures, gowns, dressings, defibrillators or portable x-rays (it may be last-year’s model, but it’s still good). We save the hauling fee by not having these perfectly good supplies sent off as waste. And a kitten and a puppy play beneath a double rainbow…it’s that good!

The best part about Operation Green? It’s run by volunteers, very already busy med-student volunteers.  They’ve been saving supplies and sending shipment from UHN since 2010…enough to fill an operating room from top to bottom. A giant thank you goes to Alison, Kim and Sheron, our Operation Green volunteers. They’ve found worthy homes around the world for these supplies. They’ve also recruited new volunteers so that when they graduate, the program lives on.

Now it’s great that they’re here saving people and the planet simultaneously, but they need your help. If you work at UHN and know of good medical supplies that will go to waste i.e. if the powers that be insist on using a new doohickey model, let’s donate the old doohickey model before it collects dust in the supply room. Or maybe you’re heading on a medical mission and can bring some supplies with you. Or maybe you just want to share a pot of tea. Whatever your reason, contact them at The babies in the bathwater will thank you.

(addendum by OpGreen volunteers, Oct 16, 2013) Operation Green is a student-run initiative that aims to reduce the environmental impact of the healthcare field. With the support of dedicated UHN staff, medical students from the University of Toronto collect unused supplies and donate them to communities in need around the world. In addition to helping the environment and humanitarian efforts, diverting material from the landfill also provides healthcare savings that could be used in improving patient care. Since 2011, Operation Green has worked with humanitarian organizations such as GlobalMedic as well as individual medical professionals to achieve its mission.

If you’re interested in learning more about the program, donating materials, or inquiring about supplies for global health initiatives, please contact the Operation Green team directly at

Revolution #4. Bin It to Win It

image credit: Environment Canada

Check out Jillian in the medical supply room, tearing off bunches of plastic outer wrap from some medical supplies. She sees the gorgeous and conveniently located blue bin lined with a clear plastic bag, and knows this must be for her (and all that other metal, glass and plastic). Lickety split, she tosses the wrap into recycling and out of the dump. And look there…another blue bin for the paper and carboard containers, right by her side. Between the two, there’s almost nothing that needs to go in the garbage. With these bins so conveniently placed near her work station, she can oh-so-easily keep her resolution to always toss recyclable items into the right bin. If she needs another bin, she knows to email Energy & Environment ( And if she’s not sure what goes where, she checks out these handy posters on the intranet about UHN recycling , and paper vs metal/glass/plastic . It’s a bit different than her home in Toronto.