Design Guidance

Because increasing healthcare plastics means considering all parts of the value chain, HPRC has developed a guidance document for manufacturers that articulates design considerations which enhance the recycling potential and value of the final product or packaging.

Design Guidance for Healthcare Plastics Recycling

This guide is intended for product designers and users of disposable medical devices and will enable increased design and use for recyclability. The guidelines may also be of use for waste haulers and recyclers interested in recycling this waste stream.

NOTE: These guidelines are specific for healthcare applications and are intended as a supplement to other plastics and packaging recycling and sustainability guidelines, which have broader applicability.

Desirable Design Practices for Healthcare Plastics

    • Designing with mono-material whenever possible.

    • Using polyolefin seals or gaskets on polypropylene bottles.

    • Combining chemically compatible or jointly processable plastics, if multiple materials are required.

    • Using materials that are easily separated during automated recycling processes, if multiple materials are required.

    • Using breathable plastics as an alternative to paper.

    • Minimizing paper labels and components.

    • Using water-based adhesives.

    • Allowing for bottles and bags to be fully drained with ease before disposal

    • Providing information on contents that allows for easy identification of residual liquids.

    • Minimizing pigments.

Less Desirable Design Practices for Healthcare Plastics

    • Using a rubber seal on a polypropylene bottle.

    • Combining incompatible bioplastics and petroleum-based plastics into one product.

    • Welding, gluing or molding two components of unlike plastics.

    • Combining plastic film with paper in packaging.

    • Using metalized plastics, metals screws, grommets in plastic.

    • Using lead.

    • Using PVC.

Why Good Design Benefits Recycling

Recycling plastic waste not only reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill or incineration, but also reduces environmental impacts from producing virgin plastics. In most cases this results in a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as the energy required for recycling is less than the energy required to make new, virgin plastic.

In a literature review conducted by HPRC, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies comparing recycling to other disposal methods concluded that recycling had a lower environmental impact than landfill or incineration with energy recovery, particularly due to the benefits of avoiding virgin plastic production.

Making Recycling Easier

Overall, products designed to limit the use of multiple plastics without sacrificing functionality could significantly increase their potential recyclability. Additionally, a standardized labeling system for all recyclable healthcare plastics products could further optimize yields at the hospital and increase the effectiveness of manual sorting capabilities of the workers handling and sorting this material.

Reaping Financial Benefits

Through the right methodology and sorting systems, designing for recycling can become an important part of the solution to reducing waste, and provide a valuable material stream for recyclers.