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Speaker says PET has advantages for medical packaging

By: Jeremy Carroll

September 11, 2013

GURNEE, ILL. — PET might not be ideal for many medical applications, including devices, but it can serve as the perfect plastic for packaging for devices.

So says Scott Steele, president of Plastic Technologies Inc.

“There are many great attributes to PET and we like to say it’s a triple threat,” he said. “It has great attributes like clarity and toughness. And it’s easy to process.”

Steele spoke at the Society of Plastic Engineers Medical Plastics MiniTec, held Sept. 9 in Gurnee.

Because of the routine nature of hospitals and the health care industry, Steele said it is set up nicely for a recycling system where device packaging made out of PET can be easily recycled and returned to the market at a very clean and high grade.

“You have everything you need for a good recycling [with medical device packaging],” he told the crowd of about 100. “What drives recycling is the availability of feedstock and consistency of supply, and the pull for the marketplace for the [commodity].”

All of those exist in the medical device packaging market.

The material has a long history without any regulatory issues, Steele said. And while it is widely available and easily recycled, the recycling rate for the material is only at approximately 30 percent. That contrasts with more than a 60 percent recycling rate for aluminum, he said.

Key in making the market as valuable as possible is to keep it as simple as possible, Steele said. The packaging — around one-time or multiple-use items used in the health care industry regularly — should be PET, but little else.

“If you are going to use PET for packaging for medical devices, I highly recommend for you to keep it as pure as possible. Because that will make it as recyclable as possible,” Steele said. “PET and PVC together are a bad, bad combination. PET degrades the PVC if you react them together and vice versa. They can be separated, that’s the good news. It’s just better if they didn’t have to be separated.”

Steele said because of the wealth of products PET can be made into, the market for PET is so much better compared to polystyrene and PVC.

In addition to traditional PET, there’s the emerging bio-derived PET market too, which can be used for packaging as well, he said. The so-called “plant bottle” material from Coca-Cola Co., shows promise, he said.

“There are unique materials that are coming out with unique properties,” Steele said. “If you haven’t considered them for your operations, perhaps you should.”

The bottom line is the industry provides a great opportunity for simple process for recycling packaging materials, making PET ideal, Steele said.

“There is a tremendous ability to collect the packaging materials that are used at facilities,” he said.