Medical plastic recycling projects expand

November 29, 2012

Results from pioneering plastic recycling projects at the Stanford University Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic are being developed into "lessons learned" and best practices guides designed to boost plastics recycling at hospitals around the United States.

"We estimate that up to 6,600 tons of solid waste are generated by hospitals daily and that 20 to 25% of

Some OR waste can be recycled. (HPRC)

that may be plastics," Peylina Chu, an engineer and sustainability specialist with the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) said in an interview with Plastics Today. And up to  85% of the plastic generated is nonhazardous.

"We're finding in the project at Stanford that they are actually saving money by recycling high-end plastic waste that did not come into contact with patients and is not contaminated. We have been able to confirm that there is a lot of plastic that can be safely recycled from hospitals."

Many hospitals now recycle plastic water bottles, food service plastics and even blue sterilization wrap, but the pilot studies raise the bar significantly.

The Stanford study, which is now about three-quarters' complete, will include data from plastic waste collected in surgical services, interventional services including catheterization and angiography labs, pre and post-anesthesia care settings and pharmacy. The study is fully funded and fully implemented by Stanford University Medical Center with technical support provided by HPRC.

Chu said that examples of material being collected for re-use are woven polypropylene blue sterilization wrap, saline bottles (polyolefin or bottle-grade polyester), miscellaneous packaging materials, thermoformed polystyrene trays, and some Tyvek high-density polyethylene fibers.

No data is available yet on the amount of savings from the Stanford medical plastics recycling project nor on the volume of plastics collected, but Chu said that the ability to save money is very dependent on the capabilities of recyclers in various regions of the country.

"One of our goals is to provide more education to recyclers about the recyclability of noncontaminated hospital waste," she said in the interview.

Another goal is to develop best practice plastics recycling rates so that hospitals know what to shoot for.

The recycler in the Stanford Medical project is Greenwaste, which says its material recovery plant in San Jose, CA is capable of sorting and recovering 98% of recyclable materials and 75% of trash for a total facility diversion rate of 88% for household and commercial waste.

Stanford recycles all of its medical waste as a single stream.    Greenwaste processes single and multiple stream waste side-by-side in its facility. Clean materials from both lines are merged to maximize efficiency and materials' recovery.

The first major pilot study conducted by HPRC looked at plastic waste collected by Waste Management at the Cleveland Clinic and processed by EPI Recycling Solutions in Erie, PA. As a result of that study, the HPRC issued design guidelines aimed at making plastic packaging easier to recycle. One example was to avoid use of rubber seals on polypropylene saline bottles.

Chu said that many HPRI members have incorporated the guidelines into their operations.

The Stanford Hospitals and Kaiser Permanente (Oakland, CA) are members of the HPRC's Healthcare Facility Advisory Board. Industry members include Baxter, BD, Cardinal Health, Covidien, DuPont,  Eastman, EPI, Hospira, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Phillips, SABIC and Waste Management. A DuPont packaging engineer co-led the HPRC role in the Stanford recycling project.

Chu said the HPRC is close to announcing the participants in its third plastics recycling pilot project.



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