Exciting Opportunities Emerging from Innovations in Healthcare Plastics Recycling

Plastic Packaging Perspectives

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:

blue wrap healthcare plastics packaging

Blue wrap

  • 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.

Plasticity 2014: A forum for ideas to advance progress in plastics recovery and recycling

Steve Russell

Leaders from a wide range of interests ranging from plastics makers to consumer product companies and the sustainability community recently met in New York at Plasticity Forum 2014 to discuss how to minimize waste and harvest the value from use plastic waste streams.

A common theme among the presentations–   including my own – was that important advances are being made in plastics recovery and recycling, such as converting non-recycled plastics into energy.


Plasticity Forum 2014

Plastics may be fairly new to recycling, but retailers, brands, and plastics makers are working together to catch up quickly. Speakers at Plasticity 2014 reported on significant leaps in the types and amounts of plastics recycled and innovative new technologies that can recover the energy value in plastics. Below are some highlights from the event:

  • Former NYC “Recycling Czar” Ron Gonen (now CEO of The Closed Loop Fund) shared his work on increasing collection rates, providing zero-interest loans for municipal recycling infrastructure, and investing in private waste reduction and recycling companies.
  • Edmonton, Alberta’s waste management technical specialist wowed the crowd with that city’s integrated waste-management goal of sending no more than 1% of plastics to landfills.
  • An expert at the forefront of pyrolysis technology talked about converting non-recycled plastics into oil.

To read more about the inspiration discussed at Plasticity 2014, check out my full blog post.

SAVE FOOD: Tracking the Reduction of Food Waste

Yasmin Siddiqi

I had the honor of representing DuPont at a recent SAVE FOOD event at Interpack.

If you haven’t heard the cry emanating from the fact that one third of the food the world produces is lost or wasted, you certainly heard it there as speaker after speaker emphasized not only the issue, but challenged the packaging industry to step up.

And I would add that we need to step up together and not just the packaging industry, but all along the value chain.

Exploring where food is lost and wasted is paramount to identifying solutions. And so is collaboration.  So as we go forward as an industry we need to do more than share ideas – we need to make this issue a priority.  Packaging clearly plays an important role in the fighting food waste.  Let’s break preconceived notions and find ways where possibly more, but better, packaging rather than less makes an impact.  Let’s prioritize technological innovations like active and intelligent packaging, or oxygen-barrier and sealing technologies to keep food fresh longer.  And let’s be creative all along the value chain and find solutions that start with farming methods and run all the way through the value chain as a means to improve food security around the world.

This is a long road with many challenges – something that the packaging industry can “sink its teeth into.”

five stages of food waste infographic

For more on how packaging can help reduce food waste, check out a recent blog post by celebrity chef and TV personality Duff Goldman, from our friends at Plastics Make it Possible®.


Plastic Recycling Gets a Boost with Three New How2Recycle Members

Anne Bedarf

Consumers want clarity in plastic recycling, but they are often stymied by program variations, unclear labeling, and inconsistent recyclability claims.

Striving to clear up the confusion is the How2Recycle label program, How2Recycle Plastic Recycling Labelnow growing with the addition of three new participants. These new members – Reynolds Consumer Products, Kimberly-Clark, and Hilex Poly Co. – are placing the How2Recycle label on selected plastic packaging, including plastic bags, wraps, and films.

The How2Recycle label simplifies recycling for consumers, with easy identification of packaging recyclability, and instructions for recycling via such options as in-store drop-off. The more companies that join, the more that consumers will get the message. How2Recycle’s three new members all found that the label suits their packaging, and the program fits their sustainability platforms:

  • Reynolds will print the label primarily on its Hefty brand slider bags and their paper-box packages. The plastic bag labels will alert consumers that many retailers can accept clean, dry food storage bags for recycling. Reynolds was motivated to join by a desire to help eliminate confusion over how and where everyday products and their packaging can be recycled, said Sean Foster, vice president of innovation.
  • Kimberly-Clark will initially add the label to its Scotts Naturals Tube-Free bath tissue flexible film packaging, followed by other Scotts Naturals packaging and Kimberly-Clark products. Lisa Morden, senior director of sustainability, said the How2Recycle label fits with Kimberly-Clark’s lifecycle thinking, from responsible sourcing of raw materials to building the capacities of consumers to recycle.
  • Hilex Poly, the nation’s largest plastic bag manufacturer, will use How2Recycle’s store drop-off label on a variety of its flexible plastic packaging, including its well-known “Thank You” plastic bag. Hilex Poly’s retail collector program, Bag-2-Bag, recycled 35 million pounds of post-consumer plastic bags, sacks, and wraps in 2013, and How2Recycle participation dovetails with the company’s “utmost priority” of promoting recycling, said Phil Rozenski, director of marketing and sustainability.

Sustainable Packaging Coalition LogoHow2Recycle, launched by GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition in 2012, has grown considerably toward its goal of putting the How2Recycle label on the majority of consumer goods by 2016. Big names on board include McDonald’s USA, ConAgra, REI, Kellogg’s, Estee Lauder, and General Mills, and it’s not just brands that are joining. In February 2014, Wegman’s became How2Recycle’s first grocery retailer, putting the How2Recycle label and a “Return to Sender” message on all plastic grocery and produce bags.

Every company has different reasons to join How2Recycle, but at heart, all share the goal of empowering consumers to recycle. We’re always glad to help new partners fit How2Recycle participation into their sustainability goals. Visit How2Recycle to join, or contact me, and I’ll be happy to help.

Deadline Extended: Submit Your Recycling Ideas to the 2014 Recycling Innovators Forum

Plastic Packaging Perspectives

This is a guest blog post written by Alison Briggs-Ungerer of Resource Recycling.

There’s still time to enter your breakthrough recycling ideas for the 2014 Recycling Innovators Forum/Competition, hosted by Resource Recycling and sponsored by Alcoa, the American Chemistry Council, Coca-Cola and Waste Management. The deadline has been extended to May 30, and the judges want to see your innovative recycling idea that can take recycling to the next level.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the Recycling Innovators Forum is a premiere event and competition where inventors and organizations share their revolutionary ideas for transforming recycling. Scheduled for September 15, 2014, in New Orleans, it’s a forum for the brightest minds in the industry to defend their recycling innovations and compete for funding, marketing opportunities and industry support directly from those who can help make it a reality.

Two winners will be awarded $20,000 each, in the categories of Enterprise/Institution and Garage Innovator.

Innovative recycling ideas take the prize

Forum organizers want to see recycling ideas that are game changers. The Recycling Innovators Forum is looking for viable, cost-effective concepts to improve recycling-stream quality, change consumer behavior, develop new markets for recyclable materials, improve diversion volume, change enterprise and large generator behavior, reduce capital costs for commercial recycling, improve data collection, and more.

In 2013, its first year, the Forum attracted nearly 50 entries. Nine finalists presented their ideas to recycling professionals and venture capitalists live at the event. Earth911 was the first place winner with its campaign to modernize the way consumers relate to recycling, while finalist Nextek’s breakthrough process to decontaminate polypropylene for food packaging showcased the possibilities for innovations in plastics recycling.

Submit your proposal, or watch and learn

If you think you have the next big idea in innovative recycling, find rules on submitting an entry on the Recycling Innovators Forum website. Proposals will be accepted until May 30, 2014. Up to 10 finalists will be invited to compete at the Forum – before judges and a live audience – on September 15.

Don’t have an idea to submit? No problem. You can still attend the event, watch the finalists’ presentations, and get a firsthand look at recycling innovation in action. Best of all, attendance is free. Visit the Recycling Innovators Forum online to register.

View the slideshow below for images from the 2013 Recycling Innovators Forum.


Ali Briggs Ungerer Resource RecyclingAlison Briggs-Ungerer has a decade of experience in the recycling world.  She has been with Resource Recycling, Inc. since 2011 and wears a variety of hats.  Ali currently manages the Recycling Innovators Forum and coordinates three national conferences (the Resource Recycling, E-Scrap and Plastics Recycling Conferences).   She has also conducted and presented original research about various recycling issues, including an assessment of non-bottle mixed rigid plastics recycling in the United States.   Ali serves on the boards of the Association of Oregon Recyclers and the Oregon Recycling Markets Development Corporation.