The Recycling Innovators Forum, held in conjunction with the Resource Recycling Conference in New Orleans on September 15, 2014, showcases groundbreaking initiatives that are moving recycling forward. One of the forum finalists is the Regional Healthcare Plastics Recycling Demonstration Project, designed to address the one million tons of non-infectious, high-quality medical plastic now streaming into landfills. Since 2010, the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council has conducted small local studies of healthcare plastics recycling. Now, the effort has expanded into the Regional Healthcare Plastics Recycling Demonstration Project, ready to demonstrate on a larger scale the enormous potential for packaging manufacturers and designers, recyclers, hospitals, and communities.
Recyclable medical plastics: A broad range of packaging
The regional project is meant to drive, inspire, and enable the recycling potential of certain healthcare and medical plastics. Many hospitals are recovering and recycling their cafeteria plastics, but a huge amount of non-infectious materials from operating rooms and clinical and patient care areas remains destined for landfills:
- These products are made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polystyrene (PS).
- Flexible plastics, constituting about 75 percent of this noninfectious healthcare waste stream, include easily identifiable sterilization wrap, or blue wrap. They can also include secondary and tertiary packaging, such as plastic shrink wrap and outer wrap.
- Rigid plastics form the remaining 25 percent or so. This segment includes polypropylene basins, trays, and bottles for such items as medical instruments or saline solution.
Pilot-test lessons: Identifying and collecting recyclable healthcare plastics
Healthcare Plastic Recycling Council’s pilot studies with three individual hospitals have yielded best practices that can be scaled up for maximum impact:
At the Stanford pilot study, bag color signals waste stream in procedural areas.
- Cleveland Clinic: Working with operating room “green teams,” the project identified medical plastics for recycling along with safe collection methods.
- Stanford University Medical Center: This pilot study identified recyclable plastics in nine hospital areas and found that operating rooms generated 40 percent of its total noninfectious healthcare plastics waste. Based on data to date it is expected that the hospital will collect 70 tons of plastics over a year.
- Kaiser Permanente: Still underway as of September 2014, this pilot is mapping plastics throughout Kaiser’s Los Angeles medical facility – identifying plastics to recycle, tracking their entry into and movement through the hospital, and determining recovery and transfer methods.
The pilot studies resulted in a plastics-recycling toolkit for hospitals, known as HospiCycle. This toolkit explains the economic, regulatory, resourcing and infrastructure nuances of recycling and helps hospitals integrate recycling practices into patient care settings.
Regionalization: Enormous impact for medical systems, recycling community, and packaging industry
Putting healthcare plastics under the microscope at the local level has revealed the huge potential for recovery and recycling. The larger regional project will convene four to six large hospitals and a single interested recycler, identified through the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), in a major Midwest or Southwest city. Success of this regional project, slated to begin collecting materials by the second quarter of 2015, relies on close partnerships among the participating recycler and hospitals. Together, they will address such challenges as segregating or single-streaming recyclables, minimizing contamination, and developing contingency plans in case of contamination. The regional goal is to develop a business case for the economic and technical feasibility of implementation, with a focus on two central questions: What are the critical numbers needed to achieve viable expansion? And how do we develop the model that gets us there? By engaging the entire value chain, the regional project expects to produce major benefits for several players:
- Health systems: The project is identifying recyclable medical plastics, detailing their financial value, and facilitating their entry into the recycling stream. Spotlighting health systems as good community partners committed to diverting plastics away from landfills is an important side benefit.
- Recycling community: Working with the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) and SPI, the regional project has discovered tremendous interest among recyclers. These recyclers envision a new source of materials to feed rising demand for products made from recycled content. To help them keep pace, the regional project hopes to create an additional toolkit, similar to HospiCycle, offering best practices in healthcare recycling for recyclers.
- Packaging industry: The project has yielded design guidance to help medical packaging makers employ design decisions that enhance recycling potential and value.
At the Recycling Innovators Forum: Raising awareness and building partnerships
The Recycling Innovators Forum is a prominent venue for inventors and organizations sharing their game-changing ideas with industry leaders.
The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council hopes its appearance at the forum will attract new partners and sponsors. Perhaps more importantly, presenting as a forum finalist will allow the council to articulate its vision to the entire recycling community. The Regional Healthcare Plastics Recycling Demonstration Project is planning to capitalize on a huge source of recyclable plastics and fuel further plastic innovations to benefit health systems, the recycling and packaging industries, and communities across the nation. To learn more or get involved in the Regional Healthcare Plastics Recycling Demonstration Project, contact Peylina Chu, the Operations Director at the HPRC.