Collaboration with UMass Lowell Seeks to Create Greater Demand for Recycled Product through Better Understanding of Material Properties and End Market Uses
The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) announced today the start of a project that will determine viable strategies for recycling multi-material flexible plastic packaging currently being discarded as hospital waste. Working with researchers at the Plastics Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell), the project will test whether commercially available compatibilizers improve blend properties when compounded with these multi-material flexible plastics. Additionally, through these blending trials and material analysis, the project aims to identify potential end market applications for the recycled product.
“Based on our research and data, up to 60% of plastic waste generated by healthcare facilities is flexible material,” says Chris Rogers, Project Manager for HPRC. “The challenge with healthcare flexibles is that they are often composed of multi-material laminates which are unrecyclable when using common recycling technologies. Through this project, we hope to shed some light on the physical properties these materials will have when processed with different types of compatibilizers applied in varying concentrations. By better understanding these properties, recyclers can better determine potential opportunities to compound these materials with other products for resale markets and therefore better understand their value.”
Collection of flexible plastic materials, including sterilization wrap, Tyvek® and film packaging, begins this week at participating hospitals including Cleveland Clinic’s Main Campus; Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Cedar Crest, Muhlenberg, and 17th Street Hospitals; and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. The goal is to collect and ship 2,000 pounds of material to EREMA, a manufacturer of plastic recycling equipment, where it will undergo initial processing at their Ipswich, MA facility. Afterwards, the material will be delivered to UMass Lowell where the compatibilizers will be added to the materials prior to extrusion and injection molding. Following this the materials will undergo testing and analysis with project results anticipated by mid-summer 2018.
“We are excited to collaborate with HPRC on this challenging recycling problem,” says Margaret J Sobkowicz, Associate Professor, Francis College of Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell. “The volume of discarded healthcare plastics is huge and the ability to recycle this material would reduce the landfill burden while preserving the value of these highly engineered products. The students participating in this research will not only learn hands-on processing skills, but they will also gain appreciation for the importance of sustainability in the plastics industry.”
The project is being funded by HPRC members: Baxter, BD, DuPont, Eastman, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and Nelipak Healthcare Packaging, with additional funding provided by the Flexible Packaging Association.
“Our end goal here is to help establish a methodology recyclers can use to process these flexible materials into recycled products and keep them out of landfills,” concludes Rogers.
This project is an extension and scale up of a previous HPRC project conducted with Penn State University.