Chicago-Area Hospitals Share Successes, Challenges of Pilot Healthcare Plastics Recycling Program

The project, led jointly by the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council and the Plastics Industry Association, exposes complexities around plastic market economics and recycling behavioral change.
Dec 19, 2016 9:30 AM ET

December 19, 2016 /3BL Media/ - The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC), in collaboration with the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), announced today the completion of a multi-hospital plastics recycling project in the Chicago market. Focused on non-infectious plastic packaging and products collected from clinical areas of the hospitals, the project sought to demonstrate a viable business model for recycling healthcare plastics on a regional level. A complete report, detailing project development, implementation and analysis can be found here.

Participating hospitals included Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Evanston, Skokie and Glenbrook Hospitals. These hospitals collected a variety of healthcare plastics, primarily from main operating rooms and ambulatory surgery centers, including polypropylene and polyethylene resins in the form of sterilization wrap, irrigation bottles, basins, pitchers, trays, Tyvek®, and rigid and flexible packaging materials. These materials were then transported by waste haulers to material recovery facilities for assessments related to composition and quality. Complexity of material types, improper sorting, and the presence of non-conforming materials were the primary challenges in being able to extract the recycling value from the materials.

“This project provided valuable insights into the realities of implementing plastics recycling programs in clinical healthcare settings,” says Chris Rogers, HPRC Project Manager. “What we learned is that collection of plastics must be made simple for clinical staff in order to be effective. Detailed sorting at the point of generation is too complex and a distant priority from clinician’s primary focus of ensuring positive patient outcomes. It’s also important to remember that behavioral change around recycling can be a slow process, one that takes constant reinforcement over time.”

Companies providing logistics and recycling support included Waste Management, LakeShore Recycling Services and Antek Madison. Key Green Solutions, LLC, a sustainability management software service provider, collected and maintained project metrics. PLACON provided additional financial support to the project as an interested end-user looking to create new products from the recycled materials. Petoskey Plastics supplied specialized bags for collection and transportation of the plastic materials.

“In addition to testing the recovery and mechanical recycling of healthcare plastics, we were also able to explore alternative pathways of chemical recycling and conversion to fuel products with our technology partners,” said Kim Holmes, senior director of recycling and diversion at PLASTICS. “Proving the value of these hospital plastics in the conversion process was an exciting dimension of this project and underscores the importance of adding non-mechanical recovery technologies to our resource management tool kit.”

Additional key project insights include:

  • Keep it simple: Collection of plastic materials must be simple for clinical staff participation.
  • Program champions are critical: Tap engaged and committed program champions within each stakeholder group.
  • Behavioral change is a process: Remember that behavioral change can be slow and requires consistent reinforcement of the desired behaviors.
  • Discuss ownership: All stakeholders need to discuss and agree on who will be responsible for sorting as comingled materials have marginal value.
  • The economics must work: To make a business case, plastic materials must be available in sufficient volumes and processes must be in place to ensure a clean supply.

About HPRC
The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) is a private technical coalition of industry peers across healthcare, recycling and waste management industries seeking to improve recyclability of plastic products within healthcare. HPRC is made up of globally recognized members including Baxter, BD, Bemis, Cardinal Health, DuPont, Eastman Chemical Company, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and SABIC Innovative Plastics. The council convenes biannually at meetings hosted by an HPRC member that include facility tours to further learning and knowledge sharing opportunities through first-hand demonstration of best practices in sustainable product and packaging design and recycling processes. For more information, visit Connect with HPRC on LinkedIn.

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), formerly SPI, is the only organization that supports the entire plastics supply chain, representing nearly one million workers in the $418 billion U.S. industry. Since 1937, PLASTICS has been working to make its members and the industry more globally competitive while advancing recycling and sustainability. To learn more about PLASTICS’ education initiatives, industry-leading insights and events, networking opportunities and policy advocacy, and North America’s largest plastics trade show, NPE: The Plastics Show, visit Connect with PLASTICS on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.