It’s the bane of many waste treatment facilities. Blue spun (non-woven) polypropylene wrap often ties its way around the best of shredders causing many hold-ups and some equipment damage during shredding of autoclave floc, and in automated feed systems for autoclaves, augers, microwave and incinerator plant.
Used for surgical drapes, the wrapper for sterile instrument packs, and for many single use disposable gowns used in theatre, radiology, in laboratories, and as the now universal disposable replacement for bed curtains that are found on every hospital ward, the material might be ideal for material recovery if separated effectively.
A new resource recovery service promises to do just that, but only for non-contaminated wrap. Strangely identifying itself as an environmentally aware non-profit .org organisation but nonetheless a limited company, Alternative To Landfill Ltd aims to be at the fore front of the recycling industry, concentrating on the recovery of waste for reuse, recycling and seeks alternatives for material that would otherwise end up in landfill sites.
Good for them. We are of like mind and would be happy to support their ideals. However, restricting the operation to accept only non-contaminated material is a serious drawback. Clearly aiming for the lower fruits, and avoiding the regulatory framework that might conflate operations that may then include wastes considered more accurately as clinical wastes, the problems that this may cause make the business model difficult to accept.
Chosen waste volumes must be low, especially since source segregation will permit recovery of non-contaminated feedstock for this operation only from the largest and most dedicated environmentally-aware surgical centres. They may be found centred around only the larger conurbations, leaving the logistics operation to bring together sufficient waste for a cost-efficient operation looking a little thin.
And of course, there is the thorny problem of source segregation. Will it be good enough? Will an item of miscellaneous plastic make a difference, or some stray sheets of paper? Probably not. But the ‘what if’ of contamination with some contaminated or bloodstained material is more difficult to predict.
How much contamination is necessary to define a contaminated load?
What about the contamination that is not visible? How hard should we look, among a skip full of compressed wrappers?
And once identified as contaminated, will the entire batch comprising multiple collections be rejected? And what becomes of that rejected material, since rejection must accept reclassification as clinical waste, consequentially bearing a high cost for disposal.
Mush spun or non-woven polypropylene drape and gown material finds its way to clinical waste treatment, and quite rightly so. The recovery of this fraction from autoclaved clinical wastes, after sterilisation and either before or after shredding, would be a major advance.
The developments of Alternative To Landfill Ltd are an important step forward and, at least in theory, looks to be of value though there are practical and operational matters of concern that may impact upon profitability and overall success. It’s a good idea, and if the regulatory framework permitted should be extended to seek the development of technologies to capture other non-woven wastes from ATT treatment floc.