How to Select a Hospital Plastics Recycling Strategy

Choosing how to structure your hospital plastics recycling program is an important decision that can have dramatic ramifications on your outcome (see HPRC's Chicago Regional Recycling Project for a real-world example.)

 

Below, we walk you through three proven approaches to help you determine what's right for your hospital.

 
Strategy 1: Focus on Limited Products

This plastics recycling strategy consists of picking one or two main items and implementing collection and recycling across multiple areas of your hospital. After successfully initiating recycling of one or two items, you can then start adding in more.

 

This strategy may be best if your recycler only accepts a limited number of products or if there is a particular plastic waste item that is generated in large quantities across many areas of your hospital.

 

Choose an easily identifiable item that is generated in large quantities. Here are some suggested items to evaluate:
 

  • Sterilization wrap (“blue wrap,” non-woven PP) – Large quantities with desirable properties that helps increase the value of recyclers’ other PP recyclables.

  • Irrigation bottles (PP) – Large quantities and easy to identify and recycle

  • Rigid plastic trays, basins, and containers (PET, PETG, PS, HDPE) – Large quantities and usually easy to recycle

  • Shrink wrap, stretch film, plastic bags (PE) – Large quantities especially at incoming dock areas, usually easily recycled
     

If you are not sure where these items are generated or used within the hospital, check with your materials management or supply chain departments.

 

Strategy 2: Focus on Selected Areas

This strategy consists of implementing a complete mixed plastics recycling program in a selected area and/or a limited number of rooms. After successfully initiating mixed recycling in the selected area, start expanding the program to other areas. This strategy may be best if there is a particular area that generates a large quantity of recyclable plastics, if staff within a particular area have a strong commitment to and passion for recycling, and/or if a well-established recycling program is already in place in a certain area.

 

Note that comingling different types of plastic materials within accumulation bags or other containers may not be acceptable to your recycling partner. The selection of materials which may be included in a recycling program, as well as accumulation and packaging practices for those materials, must be developed in close cooperation with your recycling partner. A waste audit may be helpful in determining acceptable recyclables from the department.


Choose areas with a small physical footprint, repetitive activities, clean or sterile space, no high-pressure activities (controlled patient care setting, non-trauma), and a consistent group of staff involved for ease of training. Here are some suggested areas to evaluate:
 

  • Cath Lab – sterile area

  • Interventional Radiology – sterile area

  • Pharmacy – clean area

  • Ambulatory Surgery Center – sterile area

  • Primary Surgery Department (planned cases) – case cart prep area of other sterile area

  • Anesthesia Work Rooms/Prep Areas – clean area


Alternatively, select a high-impact area such as the operating room, learn which materials are recyclable and easy to collect, and implement a program there to capture a high volume of materials.
 

Strategy 3: Focus on Similar Streams

This strategy is a combination of the Limited Products and Selected Areas strategies above. Choose service lines or care teams with similar types of plastic products that can be recycled. Pick one or two items, following guidance from the Limited Products strategy, and implement plastics recycling across the entire service line or care team. Clustered service lines or care teams will have aligned leadership structure to support a recycling program within their areas.

 

Caution:

 

Flexibles and films packaging can be difficult to segregate and recycle because of mixed materials, such as paper tape or labels on the film. Ambiguous materials should be avoided, such as plastic products with similar appearances where one type of plastic product is acceptable and a similar-looking product is not acceptable. An example is a metalized plastic bag with a shiny metal layer, like the packaging found on a scrub brush with antimicrobial and skin cleaner, which may not be acceptable for recycling.

 

Discover more resources for before you begin hospital plastics recycling.