Participating hospitals included Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Evanston, Skokie, Glenbrook, and Highland Park Hospitals.
Companies providing logistics and recycling support included Waste Management, LakeShore Recycling Services, Antek Madison, RES Polyflow and Resinate Materials Group.
Key Green Solutions, LLC, a sustainability management software service provider, collected and maintained project metrics.
PLACON provided additional financial support to the project as an interested end-user looking to create new products from the recycled materials.
Petoskey Plastics supplied specialized bags for collection and transportation of the plastic materials.
Chicago Regional Project
Supply, Meet Demand
The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council and Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) facilitated a cooperative, first-of-its-kind regional recycling program in the Chicago area and the results of this innovative pilot are in.
With a few exceptions, plastics used in the healthcare industry are single use materials representing a linear “take-make-dispose” economy. In response to current widespread low recycling rates, HPRC and PLASTICS asked the question: Is it possible to radically increase the amount of clinical healthcare plastics managed as technical materials in a circular “make-use-return” economy?
To answer this question, HPRC and PLASTICS designed and implemented a multi-hospital plastics recycling project in the Chicago market. 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 the recycling of healthcare plastics on a regional basis.
One of the barriers preventing individual hospital programs from achieving economic viability is that the quantity of materials generated often does not represent sufficient commodity value necessary to attract the attention of recyclers. In bringing together multiple hospitals in the same geographic area, the Chicago regional project hoped to overcome this barrier – to demonstrate that these plastic materials have value, that they can be effectively collected from hospital clinical areas, and that they can be collected in sufficient quantities to surpass the economic tipping point such that recycling of these materials represents a good business opportunity for recyclers.
Participating hospitals collected a variety healthcare plastics (primarily from main operating rooms and ambulatory surgery centers) which were then transported by waste haulers to material recovery facilities (MRFs) for processing or transferred to specialized plastics recyclers. HPRC and PLASTICS looked to identify key success criteria for a regional cooperative like this, define market requirements, and detail best practices so that the model could be replicated in other geographies and markets.
The project saw success around defining the relative quantities of material types and understanding the complexity of sorting the materials once comingled. As documented in similar studies, sterilization wrap represented the highest volume of material collected, and, as part of this project, the material properties of sterilization wrap were evaluated as a viable substitute or supplement for virgin resins in product manufacturing. Other flexible packaging materials such as film plastics, as well as rigid plastic packaging, were also collected in considerable and consistent quantities.
In addition to exploring mechanical recycling opportunities for these various plastic materials, the team also tested the potential to demonstrate value through energy conversion and chemical recycling. Both trials were successful, suggesting when mechanical recycling options are not available for these healthcare plastics, value can still be realized through other recovery processes
Overall the project, a first step into exploring the possibilities of regional collaboration, has yielded a number of practical actions that both hospitals and recyclers can take to facilitate increased healthcare plastics recycling.