The stated goal of the Plastics Scorecard v.1.0, released today by Clean Production Action, is "to inform the selection of safer plastics by businesses and catalyze manufacturers to reduce the number and volume of chemicals of high concern (CoHCs) in manufacturing processes and products." The authors want to encourage the use of safer chemicals, as Clare Goldsberry notes in her blog post, "The Plastics Scorecard Gives the One of the World's Most Valuable Materials a Bad Grade," but they don't consider a number of economic and regulatory factors that resin producers and processors must take into account.
In addition to ranking polymers on a scale of least to most hazardous based on the use of CoHCs during the manufacturing process, the Scorecard also includes a product footprint that measures the number and weight percentage of CoHCs in plastic products, notably in medical IV bags. These products traditionally have been made using PVC with a DEHP plasticizer to impart flexibility.
DEHP has been linked with hormonal abnormalities, particularly in infants, and its manufacture and incineration can create dioxin, a known carcinogen.
The Plastics Scorecard compares bags made from PVC plasticized with DEHP, which dominate the market, with polyolefin-based products, made with layers of polyethylene and polypropylene. The latter materials score relatively well in the Plastics Scorecard, as no CoHCs are used in their manufacture.
Based on existing studies, the Scorecard authors estimate that PVC IV bags typically contain 30% DEHP along with a small amount of BPA, which has also been linked to health risks. (It should be noted, however, that FDA and, more recently, Health Canada have declared low-dose exposure to BPA to be without adverse health effects).
There has been a significant push over the years to replace PVC in medical devices with other materials, and this report cites the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, which comprises more than 490 hospitals with over $20 billion in purchasing power, many of which are taking the Safer Chemicals Challenge to reduce PVC/DEHP products used in healthcare. Dignity Health (formerly Catholic Healthcare West), which switched from PVC/DEHP IV bags to a polyolefin-based product in 2008, is highlighted in the report.
Over the six year period from 2008 to 2013, Dignity Health reduced the chemical footprint of its IV bags by eliminating 1,543,467 pounds of PVC polymers, 673,023 pounds of DEHP, and 33,651 pounds of BPA, note the authors.
The authors willingly concede that regulatory, cost, and risk/benefit considerations that are part and parcel of specifying a material for medical applications are not part of the Scorecard's scope.
"All medical devices, as well as any other product, must meet the requisite performance and regulatory requirements. The Plastics Scorecard does not address performance and regulatory concerns. We recognize that material managers and purchasers will ensure all medical devices meet regulatory requirements and performance needs," report co-author Mark Rossi, PhD, told PlasticsToday.
For Ole Grøndahl Hansen, project manager at PVCMed Alliance, an industry association representing the interests of PVC resin suppliers and processors, it is important to remember that PVC is still the most used polymer in the medical sector. "Almost 40% of all plastic-based medical devices are manufactured in PVC, and forecasts tell us that this will continue in the years to come."
Time and money would be better spent on improving the sustainability of PVC rather than developing alternative materials for medical device applications, he adds.
Representatives for SPI: The plastics industry trade association could not be reached for comment on this report.