On Monday, the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) announced the completion of a multi-hospital plastics recycling project in Chicago, collaborating with the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS). Focused on non-infectious plastic packaging and products collected from clinical areas of the hospitals, the project sought to demonstrate a viable business model for recycling healthcare plastics on a regional level.
Key Green Solutions, LLC, a sustainability management software service provider, collected and maintained project metrics, while PLACON provided additional financial support to the project as an interested end user looking to create new products from the recycled materials.
Participating hospitals collected a variety of healthcare plastics, which were then transported to material-recovery facilities for assessments related to composition and quality. Complexity of material types, improper sorting and the presence of non-conforming materials were found as primary barriers to extracting the recycling value from the materials.
“The project provided valuable insights into the realities of implementing plastics recycling programs in clinical healthcare settings,” said HPRC Project Manager Chris Rogers. “What we learned is that collection of plastics must be made simple for clinical staff in order to be effective. Detailed sorting at the point of generation is too complex and a distant priority from clinicians’ primary focus of ensuring positive patient outcomes. It’s also important to remember that behavioral change around recycling can be a slow process, one that takes constant reinforcement over time.”
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Additional key project insights include:
- Keep it simple: Collection of plastic materials must be easy and convenient for clinical staff participation.
- Program models are critical: Tap engaged and committed program models within each stakeholder group.
- Discuss ownership: All stakeholders need to discuss and agree on who will be responsible for sorting as comingled materials have marginal value.
- The economics must work: To make a business case, plastic materials must be available in sufficient volumes and processes must be in place to ensure a clean supply
“In addition to testing the recovery and mechanical recycling of healthcare plastics, we were also able to explore alternative pathways of chemical recycling and conversion to fuel products with our technology partners,” said Kim Holmes, Senior Director of Recycling and Diversion at PLASTICS. “Providing the value of these hospital plastics in the conversion process was an exciting dimension of this project and underscores the importance of adding non-mechanical recovery technologies to our resource-management toolkit.”
As more and more companies and countries around the world have recognized the business case for optimizing reuse of materials such as plastic, a number of coalitions have formed aimed at creating a circular economy: In May, just after Trucost released a study estimating that scaling up a circular system for plastics could deliver environmental savings of $3.5 billion, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched its New Plastics Economy initiative, a three-year initiative in which more than 40 leading companies from a number of industries and cities such as Copenhagen and London took a concrete first step towards the design of a plastics system grounded in circular economy principles. Since then, organizations representing the European packaging industry have urged the EU to embolden its circular economic strategies, and cross-sector collaborations in Europe and Canada have emerged to foster a circular economy for packaging materials.