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Case Study: Recycling Pilot for Non-Hazardous Medical Plastic Waste

Executive Summary

The medical plastic waste recycling pilot brought together B. Braun Medical Inc. (a medical device manufacturer of smart-infusion therapy and related products), Lehigh Valley Health Network (a nationally ranked premier health system based in Allentown, Pa.) and PureCycle Technologies LLC (an advanced recycler of plastic) to evaluate and evolve the concept of health care medical plastic recycling. PureCycle Technologies focuses on the recovery and recycling of polypropylene (PP), the targeted material for this pilot. Also engaged in this pilot were Cougle’s Recycling, Inc. of Hamburg, Pa., a material recovery facility (MRF) in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania, and Kurt Duska Consulting of Girard, Pa., a plastics recycling industry expert and primary author of this report. The goal of the pilot was to identify barriers to increasing nonhazardous medical plastic recycling rates at health care providers by instituting a collection and processing program aligned with the quality requirements of an advanced plastics recycler in the region. This effort was enabled by a grant from Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services.

Over an eight-month period from April to December 2023, an estimated 18,000 pounds of materials – ranging from blue sterile wrap to PP-based IV bags – were collected at the designated hospital. The materials were then collated at the MRF and shipped to the recycler for processing. The recycler’s target material requirements were met. The pilot was successful in achieving the objective to further understand what needs to be true for nonhazardous medical plastic waste to be recycled. The pilot identified challenges which centered on costs to collect and transport, physical space availability in the hospital, and hospital employee training.

The challenges to recycle nonhazardous medical plastics will not be resolved by any one part of the chain but require all stakeholders to be involved, including government. Best practices from product and packaging design, logistics and recycling infrastructure must be identified and consolidated to allow for improved recycling rates and decreased environmental impact. Financial transformations to address the increased costs associated with a recycling program must also be achieved to enable a circular economy for medical plastics.

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