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Cover Story

PVC Recovery In Hospitals : Global Benchmark

Plastics are a significant share of hospital general waste. It has been estimated that all plastics account for about one third of a hospitalís general waste, most of which is sent to landfill in Australia. Of all plastic waste generated by a hospital, PVC medical products such as intravenous fluid bags, tubing, oxygen masks and blood bags, are estimated to represent about 25%.

PVC Is Recyclable

PVC, also known as vinyl, can be recycled relatively easily once it is recovered from the waste stream and has been separated from other plastics or materials. Although a number of recycling programs exist for PVC products such as bottles, pipes and cable, until recently medical products have not been recovered in Australia. Recycling plastics saves energy and conserves valuable raw material resources. A recycled plastic product (including PVC) has approximately one quarter of the embodied energy compared to an equivalent plastic product made with virgin resin.

A pilot PVC recovery program was initiated at Western Health Victoria in 2009 which showed that some PVC medical products can be separated relatively easily by hospital staff. Recycling PVC diverts waste and useful resources from landfill and reduces the consumption of energy feedstocks in the production of new products.

Itís A Matter Of Know-How

Educating and engaging staff in hospitals is crucial to the successful recovery and recycling of PVC medical products. It is through the collective efforts of staff that attitudes towards waste change, the volume of material recovered grows and contamination of the collected PVC is minimised.

These efforts result in a higher quality recyclate for use in new products, some of which may end up being used in hospitals again, for example, as new floor-coverings.

How It Works

Hospital waste is routinely separated into general and infectious (regulated/clinical) streams. In Australia, infectious waste is defined as materials or solutions containing or contaminated with blood or tissue or arising from patients with certain defined infections. Generally, about 30 per cent of waste within operating theatres and intensive care units is infectious; the remainder is dealt with as general waste and sent to landfill.

Under the PVC Recovery program, the proportion of general waste sent to landfill can be reduced. After use, flexible PVC medical products identified for recovery - such as IV bags, tubing and oxygen masks - can be disposed of in dedicated PVC Recovery bins located in the areas of the hospital that use high volumes of these products.

The bins are collected and transported to a PVC recycler who washes and granulates the material. It is then processed at high temperature and extruded into a new product, or heated, extruded and pelletised so that it is in a form that can be bagged and sold to a product manufacturer for reuse.

This type of recovered PVC produces a relatively high quality recyclate as the original products are generally clear rather than coloured. The recycled material cannot be re-used in new medical products for quality assurance reasons.

Waste Collectors And Recyclers

Third party waste collectors and recyclers will be required to take any collected PVC medical waste from the hospital. There are a number of PVC recyclers in Australia who specialise in sourcing and reprocessing PVC product waste for recycling into new products manufactured in Australia.

Depending on hospital location and size, these companies may arrange collection of the waste directly from a hospital or may engage a waste haulage company to collect and transport it to their reprocessing plant.

End Uses Of Recycled PVC

PVC medical waste recovered under this program can be recycled into useful new products such as industrial and garden hose, PVC compound, vinyl flooring and carpet backing.

It is estimated that Australia consumes at least 2,500 tonnes per annum of PVC in the most common medical products. Each tonne of recycled PVC produced will replace about one tonne of virgin PVC compound used in new

Separating PVC products from non-PVC products at the source of waste generation produces a higher quality of PVC recyclate since contamination by other material has been minimised.

Improving The Result

The following steps reduce the risk of contamination of the PVC material by non-PVC materials and greatly improves the recyclability of the waste:

  • Remove elastic straps and metal clips from oxygen masks

  • Drain IV solutions from bags before disposal and remove hard plastic inserts

  • Even where the main part of a product is PVC, if there are numerous components made of hard plastics and other materials, such as in giving sets, do not include it in the PVC Recovery bins

Once PVC waste is separated and recovered, there may be opportunities to divert the remaining mixed plastics waste for recycling by another party.

(Ref: http://vinyl.org.au/about-pvc/pvcproducts/pvc-in-healthcare/pvcrecovery-in-hospitals)

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