Simplicity equals success, according to a multi-hospital study of health care plastics recycling in the Chicago area.
The research, conducted by the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council and the Plastics Industry Association, wanted to see if recycling health care plastics can be a viable business on a regional level, according to organizers.
The focus was on non-infectious plastic packaging and products used in clinical areas of hospitals including Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and the Evanston, Skokie and Glenbrook hospitals, all part of NorthShore University HealthSystem.
“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,” said Chris Rogers, HPRC project manager, in a statement.
Thermoformer Placon Corp., interested in determining the potential of using hospital plastics to make new products, helped provide financial support for the project. Film maker Petoskey Plastics provided special bags for collection and transportation of the recycled plastics.
“In addition to testing the recovery and mechanical recycling of health care 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 the Plastics Industry Association, in a statement. Her trade group was formerly known as the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
The study found that changing behavior can take time and needs reinforcement. The economics of a project also must make sense. And stakeholders need to discuss who will be responsible for sorting because comingled plastics have little value, the groups said. Finding “program champions” also is critical to making a recycling effort successful.
The study's report indicated sterilization wrap, commonly called “blue wrap,” was the highest volume of material collected. “Other flexible packaging materials such as film plastics, as well as rigid plastic packaging, were also collected in considerable and consistent quantities,” the report states.
The report indicates that there is up to an estimated 1 million tons of non-infectious plastic packaging and projects available for recovery from clinical settings each year in the United States.