Chinese police have ‘bust’ a plant recycling medical (clinical) waste for use in plastic toys and tableware.
Illegal operators salvage plastics from used hospital items which they sell around the world. Three men have now been prosecuted in eastern China for recycling medical (clinical) waste that can end up being made into toys and tableware for sale.
Police identified one of the suspects during a crackdown on an illegal medical waste dump in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, in August. The suspect told police that he had been recycling medical waste – including used hypodermic needles, intravenous drip bags, bottles and tubes – from several hospitals in Nanjing which he had bought for between 800 (HK$895) yuan to 1,200 yuan a month since 2012.
He would then hire a local workshop to sort out and pack the waste, which was sold to customers in other areas including Suqian and neighbouring Zhejiang province, the report said.
Police tracked down a second suspect, surnamed Zhang, in Suqian in September. He confessed to police that he had been buying medical waste from Nanjing for between 2,000 yuan to 2,500 yuan per tonne since 2014.
He said he would resell the waste to processing plants, where it would turned into tiny plastic pellets called nurdles before being sold online to plastic factories around the world, the report said.
Police said that as drip bags and tubes were often made of polypropylene and polyethylene – two main materials for plastic products – some of the nurdles were reprocessed into plastic toys and tableware.
The case is still under investigation. Chinese law stipulates that used medical materials must be disposed of under strict procedures. Violators can be jailed for up to seven years.
This is not the first time China and the Far East countries have identified the illicit use of plastics from clinical wastes for plastic recycling. It can be done, and done safely, but the evidence invariably points to poor hygiene and a complete lack of sterilisation, placing workers at considerable risk of infection.
The extent of any risk to users of items fashioned from these recycled plastics is unknown but probably slight since the temperature of heating for processing and later moulding is high. However, the risks are uncertain and in these illicit premises cross-contamination of product is perhaps not unlikely. Moreover, there is an obvious risk of contamination with chemical and pharmaceutical residues that are an obvious concern.