Plastics recycling from healthcare wastes

The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) has finalized an agreement with Stanford University Medical Center to begin a six-month pilot study to develop a better understanding of plastic waste characterization within healthcare facilities. The study will collect and analyze data related to materials, types, volumes and sources of pre-patient plastic waste at Stanford Hospital and Clinics in Palo Alto, Calif.

“This pilot work is momentous as we work towards our mission of inspiring and enabling sustainable, cost-effective recycling solutions for plastic products used in the delivery of healthcare,” says Tod Christenson, director of HPRC. “The information captured from this study will provide valuable insight into the barriers and challenges of recycling mixed plastics in hospitals. From these learnings, HPRC can then contribute meaningful fact and experience-based guidance on plastics recycling to other healthcare facilities.”

“Stanford has been passionately active in plastics recycling within our clinical setting for some time now,” says Krisanne Hanson, director of sustainability at Stanford University Medical Center. “As a Healthcare Facility Advisory Board member to HPRC, we are excited to work with them to increase industry knowledge, share best practices and define solutions for other hospitals seeking greater sustainability in this area.”

The pilot study will include data collection in the following functional areas: surgical services, interventional services including catheterization and angiography labs, pre and post-anesthesia care settings and pharmacy. The study will be fully funded and fully implemented by Stanford University Medical Center with technical support provided by HPRC.

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 13 members including Baxter, BD, Cardinal Health, Covidien, DuPont, Eastman Chemical Company, Engineered Plastics, Hospira, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly Clark, Philips, SABIC and Waste Management. 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.


This is welcome news. There is much scope for recovery and recycling of many fractions from healthcare in general and from clinical wastes in particular. Plastics recovery is perhaps easier from clinical wastes where sharps are – mostly – properly segregated and ripe for materials recovery.

Both plastics and metals can be recovered with ease, and latex and nitrile glove recovery has been attempted commercially though I do have some doubts about the re-use of gloves, from a safety and performance perspective, as well as the aesthetic.

Sadly, almost every attempt at materials recovery from clinical wastes in the UK has been thwarted by the bullish intervention of individuals from the Environment Agency who wish to stand in the way for largely ideological reasons. Objections are found, though the scientific integrity of those objections has been weak if not entirely spurious.

Let us hope that the US regime is more forward looking and supportive of improved waste management and the resource recovery that should be the norm for all mixed waste streams.

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