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Hospital recycling gets a checkup

Article-Hospital recycling gets a checkup

According to research by the American Plastics Council, hospitals generate 12 million pounds of waste each day. About 15−20% of this waste is plastic, and surprisingly, most of that waste is free of contamination, reports Roseann Salasin, global marketing director, DuPont Medical and Pharmaceutical Protection. “The potential for recycling, therefore, is significant,” she says. “Not only do hospitals have an opportunity to lower their environmental impact and their costs, but they also have an opportunity to enable healthy communities.”

In an effort to encourage recycling, DuPont has joined seven other leaders in healthcare, recycling, and waste management industries to form the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC). Member companies include Becton, Dickinson and Company, Cardinal Health, Engineered Plastics, DuPont, Hospira, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly Clark, and Waste Management.

Aware that plastics make up a significant amount of the medical waste stream, the coalition came together in 2009 to find a better way to handle that waste, explains Alison Trauley, consultant, HPRC Communications, Antea Group, which is assisting HPRC. “We wanted to understand what was happening within the value chain that was disabling recycling. We found several barriers to recycling plastic.”

So HPRC’s technical working group set out to map the healthcare plastics value chain to better understand these barriers. “The goal was to identify these barriers and to begin to develop a framework for effecting change from healthcare product design and manufacturing through product use, disposal, and recycle,” says Trauley.

HPRC immediately saw that the healthcare industry lacked any sort of recycling guidelines, so it decided to develop its own. Slated for release this summer, “Design for Recycling” guidelines will “articulate product and packaging design considerations that could enhance recycling potential and value,” HPRC’s mission statement reads.

HPRC has also begun its third initiative, which is to develop a “Healthcare Facility Advisory Board.” This board will help HPRC’s technical working group understand workflow within facilities and what inhibits recycling. Trauley says the group is planning pilot study programs within healthcare facilities to help HPRC conduct analysis of the economics of plastics recycling.

Salasin is excited about the group. “We have been recycling Tyvek for years at our own plants and other facilities, so it is a shame that it is not being recycled more in healthcare facilities,” she says. “Change is possible, but we realized that DuPont cannot do it alone. We are on a journey together to reach out to healthcare facilities to remove barriers to collection, sorting, and recycling.”

“HPRC’s strength lies in harnessing the successes of its individual member companies in order to increase plastics recycling,” says Trauley. “The purer we can get the waste stream, for instance, the more likely facilities will be able to recycle plastic for later use downstream.”

Salasin says that the group is considering the economics and effort behind any sort of change. “We know we need to make it economically viable for all parties,” she says.

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