The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) has published a white paper, Advanced Recycling of Healthcare Plastics: An Opportunity for Circularity, to explore advanced recycling technologies in an effort to discover if they could address the healthcare plastics waste stream in a meaningful way. This research included conducting interviews with sixteen advanced recycling companies from across the United States to uncover opportunities for healthcare plastics and challenges posed by the various advanced recycling technologies, including purification, decomposition, and conversion.
Plastics play a critical role in the delivery of safe and cost-effective healthcare services around the world. However, the healthcare industry has recognized that the environmental footprint from the widespread use of plastics, especially packaging, is significant. Previous work conducted by HPRC around recyclability of flexible healthcare plastics demonstrated that mixed-material streams of flexible plastics could be successfully recycled through mechanical recycling. That work, while useful as a model, was constrained in its real-world applicability as many waste stream plastics are typically aggregated from multiple sources and are comprised of multiple resins, rendering them either too contaminated, degraded, or incompatible for traditional mechanical recycling process. Therefore, in 2020, HPRC initiated a new project to explore the applicability of alternative advanced recycling technologies to the healthcare plastic waste stream.
“Healthcare plastics represent a valuable, high-quality plastic feedstock that can be circulated back into the production of goods,” says Peylina Chu, Executive Director of HPRC. “Until now, a large percentage of healthcare waste could not be effectively recycled by mechanical means alone and was incinerated, landfilled, or lost to the environment — the primary barrier being mechanical recycling’s low tolerance for contamination from both undesired resins and foreign materials. Advanced recycling technologies, as they continue to mature, stand to address this barrier so that a significant portion of healthcare waste will be able to be effectively recycled.”
Through its research, HPRC identified the following insights:
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin is detrimental to most advanced recycling technologies.
- The output from advanced recycling is similar to virgin plastics and can be used to help manufacturers meet recycled content goals for products and packaging.
- Less sorting is required for advanced recycling.
- Logistics challenges are similar for mechanical or advanced recycling.
- Healthcare plastics are well suited and can be a valuable feedstock for advanced recycling.
- Because of the increased environmental impacts associated with advanced recycling compared to mechanical recycling, advanced recycling is a complementary solution to mechanical recycling.
“By design, to effectively deliver safe and sterile products to hospitals, healthcare packaging rarely fits the desired composition of a single polymer, and form sought after by mechanical recyclers,” says Nick Packet, MDM Specialist and Packaging Engineer at DuPont and project lead for the Advanced Recycling White Paper. “We hope this white paper brings greater awareness and understanding of advanced recycling and how it might influence decisions across the healthcare value stream. This information will help MDM’s design packaging that is more recycling-friendly and avoid packaging materials that are not compatible with advanced recycling technologies. Furthermore, the ability of many advanced recycling processes to accept mixed material streams can simplify the upstream collection of healthcare plastics within the hospital. By removing the barrier and burden of extensive sorting, advanced recycling will enable the recycling of this mixed material stream and ultimately, we hope that advanced recyclers increasingly view healthcare plastics as valuable feedstock to their operations.”
HPRC is a private technical coalition of industry peers across healthcare, recycling and waste management industries seeking to improve recyclability of plastic products within healthcare. HPRC is made up of brand leading and globally recognized members including Amcor, Baxter, BD, Boston Scientific, DuPont, Eastman Chemical Company, Gore Medical, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Nelipak Healthcare Packaging, ThermoFisher Scientific, Ravago Recycling Group, Remington Medical, Sartorius, Sonoco Healthcare and Sterimed. The council convenes biannually at meetings hosted by an HPRC member that regularly include stakeholder engagement events and facility tours to further learning and knowledge sharing opportunities through first-hand demonstration of best practices in sustainable product and packaging design and recycling processes. For more information, visit www.hprc.org and follow HPRC on LinkedIn.