In a recent article in PlasticsToday, Ole Grøndahl Hansen of the PVCMed Alliance sounded the alarm on calls coming from some quarters to phase out the use of plastics in hospitals. The increasing volume of medical plastic waste, partly because of COVID-19 and the surge in demand for personal protective equipment, has sparked this debate. But getting rid of plastic in healthcare would be a fatal mistake, writes Hansen, who reminds readers that “recycling is the way forward.” Serendipitously, the Vinyl Institute of Canada embarked on that journey this week with the launch of PVC 123, Canada’s first medical PVC recycling pilot partnership.
Established with funding support from Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Vinyl Institute of Canada, the project aims to divert products from landfills and encourage the recycling of PVC medical devices in hospitals. Hospital operating rooms, which produce the highest volume of IV bags, oxygen masks, and oxygen tubing waste, will be the first point of collection. The collected materials then will be remanufactured into new products, said the news release.
St. Joseph's Health Centre and Humber River Hospital in Toronto lead the pilot project, which began on Sept. 15 and will run through March 31, 2021. Additional hospitals are expected to join the program this year. "Life-saving devices are made from PVC. Our industry has been recycling since the 1980s, and we are excited to add hospitals to our growing list of recyclers in Canada," said Vinyl Institute of Canada President and CEO, Aiñe Curran.
Norwich Plastics, a leader in PVC recycling, will oversee the logistics of the collected materials and their conversion into new products, such as hoses, tubing, automotive supplies, and sound-dampening products. Norwich Plastics expects to divert at least 80,000 pounds of recyclable PVC from landfills during the run of this pilot.
Laurie Thomas, director of the perioperative and endoscopy programs at Humber River in Toronto, reportedly one of Canada's most technologically advanced hospitals, will outfit 20 operating rooms and five endoscopy suites, as well as the post anesthetic care unit and surgical day care, with PVC collection receptacles. “If we can show people that a fast-paced and complex hospital environment can recycle, then we all can,” said Thomas. “It's a great message for Humber River Hospital to cultivate."
There have been similar recycling initiatives targeting medical plastic waste over the years. For example, the PVC Recycling in Hospitals program in Australia began as a pilot project in 2009 with one healthcare provider. Developed by the Vinyl Council of Australia and sponsored by medical device OEM Baxter Healthcare, the program has grown to include more than 140 hospitals across Australia and New Zealand.
It is undeniable that the advent of single-use plastic devices in medical settings has immeasurably improved patient and practitioner safety. Plastics have also contributed to design innovation and cost reduction in the medical arena. Exiling the material from healthcare settings would be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is a sensible solution to the plastic waste problem, as these recycling programs show.