Design guidelines released to promote recycling

Daphne Allen

January 4, 2016

3 Min Read
Design guidelines released to promote recycling

The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) has released guidelines intended to help product and packaging designers improve the recyclability of disposable plastic products. “Design Guidelines for Optimal Hospital Plastics Recycling” was produced by HPRC’s technical working group, which comprises technical experts from HPRC members BD, Cardinal Health, DuPont, Engineered Plastics, Hospira, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly Clark, and Waste Management. (Three new members that joined this past fall--Baxter, Eastman, and Philips--participated in reviews.)

“We are fortunate to have had these technical experts—not just generalists—look at their own processes and consider the implications of these guidelines,” says Tod Christenson, HPRC Director.

The guidelines were produced following a pilot study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, Engineered Plastics, and Waste Management, explained Peylina Chu, one of the experts supporting HPRC’s technical working group. “The concepts behind the guidelines came forth pretty quickly during this study, as we identified items that were difficult to recycle,” she says. The study looked into the recyclability and best practices of pre-patient operating room plastic waste.

The goal is to build a value chain that enables plastic waste recycling, Christenson says. “The cleaner you can make the plastics waste stream, the more value the waste has on the recycling market,” adds Chu. “Finances drive decisions, so there is a push toward a cleaner waste stream to drive that value.”

At the same time, HPRC members sought to maintain product quality, so they opted not to ban materials, instead stressing “optimization.” Says Christenson: “The number-one driver for our member companies is to maintain product quality.”
As a result, HPRC chose terms like desirable and less desirable rather than banning specific materials or processes, Christenson explains. “We feel this is much more actionable.”

The following designs are considered and provided with such desirable and less desirable options:

· Multiple material types within one discrete healthcare product.
· Labels and tapes attached to healthcare plastic supplies.
· Material types within healthcare packaging.
· Allow for the identification and removal of product residue post-use in healthcare supplies.
· Use of pigments in products.

Under packaging, monomaterial flow wrap flexible packaging, monomaterial rigid trays, and breathable plastics such as spunbound PP and nonwoven high-density PE (HDPE), which can be utilized as alternatives to paper, are listed as “desirable design practices.” Paper/film combinations and metalized plastics, metal screws, and grommets in plastic are listed as “less desirable.”

For instance, paper can contaminate the plastics stream, says Chu. “The paper tape on blue sterile wrap can be a problem. But as far as we can tell, there isn’t a suitable plastic tape on the market at this time. So this is a change within the supply chain that could greatly enhance plastic recycling.”

HPRC members with healthcare product design and manufacturing operations are working to implement these guidelines, and member companies will also be working to build awareness and educate their peers in the industry. And some members are continuing their research. Eastman and EPI are working with Penn State’s medical packaging products laboratory to look into materials that can be mixed and still maximize their market value for recycling.

Other pilot studies are planned over the next year, Chu reports.

Ultimately, says Christenson, “the questions we must consider are whether it is economically viable to recycle a particular plastic waste and whether we have an infrastructure to recycle that waste.”

The complete Design Guidelines for Optimal Hospital Plastics Recycling document is available for download


About the Author(s)

Daphne Allen

Daphne Allen is editor-in-chief of Design News. She previously served as editor-in-chief of MD+DI and of Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News and also served as an editor for Packaging Digest. Daphne has covered design, manufacturing, materials, packaging, labeling, and regulatory issues for more than 20 years. She has also presented on these topics in several webinars and conferences, most recently discussing design and engineering trends at IME West 2024 and leading an Industry ShopTalk discussion during the show on artificial intelligence.

Follow Daphne on X at @daphneallen and reach her at [email protected].

Sign up for the Packaging Digest News & Insights newsletter.

You May Also Like