June 19, 2024

Health Minds

Nourishing Minds, Elevating Health

HPRC Makes Strides Toward Advanced Recycling in Healthcare

2 min read

At the[PACK]out, Alison Bryant, senior consultant at Antea Group and communications director for the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC), addressed a pressing issue that has long plagued the healthcare industry: the environmental impact of single-use plastics.

“Plastic is indispensable for modern healthcare,” Bryant began, emphasizing its role in ensuring durability, sterility, quality, and safety for patients and healthcare workers. However, the widespread use of these materials has led to significant environmental repercussions, with most of the waste ending up in landfills or incinerated.

“In 2020 alone, global production of healthcare plastics exceeded 32 billion pounds, a figure projected to rise to 48 billion pounds by 2025,” Bryant pointed out, adding that much of this material is uncontaminated and recyclable, yet it still contributes to the growing waste problem. This is where the HPRC steps in, a coalition dedicated to enhancing the recyclability of plastic products and packaging in healthcare through various technical projects.

“Our vision is that all healthcare plastics get safely and effectively recycled, and that they’re viewed as a valuable resource,” Bryant explained. The HPRC’s approach is highly collaborative, involving members from across the value chain to identify and remove barriers at every stage, from raw material supply to design, use, disposal, and recycling. Their member-driven strategy is crucial, as recycling healthcare plastics presents unique challenges, including complex designs that inhibit recyclability, a lack of training and time among hospital staff regarding recycling protocols, and limitations in infrastructure and space within healthcare settings.

She highlighted the HPRC’s work in advanced recycling (also known as molecular or chemical recycling), which aims to address the limitations of traditional mechanical recycling, particularly with the high-performance multi-laminate plastics so common in healthcare packaging. Their phased approach involved extensive research and industry interviews with 16 advanced recycling companies, followed by pilot projects to test the viability of different advanced recycling technologies with industrial and mixed hospital waste streams.

The findings from these efforts have been compiled into white papers available on the HPRC’s site.

Based on their research, the HPRC developed a set of guiding principles for advanced recycling. These principles emphasize the need for advanced recycling processes to demonstrate reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional fossil-based plastics, ensuring they do not compromise healthcare operations, patient safety, or environmental integrity.

“Any claims made about the benefits or performance of advanced recycled plastics should be substantiated by scientific research,” Bryant stressed, highlighting the importance of transparency and credibility. Additionally, advanced recycling should complement existing mechanical recycling efforts, focusing on materials that are otherwise hard to recycle.

The final guiding principle underscores the importance of maintaining the material and molecular integrity of plastics, enabling their reuse in medical applications. “This supports circularity and reduces the need for new virgin plastics, aligning with broader environmental goals,” Bryant said. “We do not view energy recovery or waste-to-fuel as advanced recycling.”

By fostering collaboration across the value chain and leveraging advanced recycling technologies, the HPRC aims to create a more sustainable future for the industry. 

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