The international symbol for recycling of vinyl-based plastics.
Europe’s vinyl recyclers reached a milestone in 2012 having recycled a record 362,076 tonnes of PVC, keeping the industry on track to meet a target of recycling 800,000 tonnes per year by 2020. The PVC industry is working together under an industry programme, VinylPlus, to set and help meet recycling targets.
In 2012 VinylPlus registered a decrease of 76% in lead stabiliser consumption in the EU compared with 2007 levels, well on track to complete full substitution by the end of 2015.
An important focus of the VinylPlus programme is the promotion of “sustainability awareness”. In that regard, a number of communication projects were supported last year to reinforce a voluntary commitment message along the value chain. VinylPlus also engaged in external debates including Rio+20, the United Nations conference on sustainable development. VinylPlus’s voluntary commitment was included in the Rio+20 Registry of Commitments.
Unfortunately, the success of VinylPlus does not step foot into the world of post-use medical plastics. Many commentators say that recycling is not commonplace in healthcare due to the toxic nature of waste medical products—incineration is the norm to ensure toxic chemicals do not enter the waste stream.
Medical Plastics News has been challenging the healthcare industry about this practice, insisting that there are a host of products which do not need to be destroyed and, with a little attention from device users, could be separated to provide a safe recyclable stream of materials. The magazine has highlighted examples of where manufacturers are successfully working with hospitals to collect and recycle products. Two of the more advanced companies in this respect are BD and GSK. BD operates ecoFinity Life Cycle Solution, a closed-loop system which can recover and recycle up to 70% of a healthcare facility’s sharps waste stream. Medical sharps devices are collected on site, treated and processed to recover recyclable materials. BD uses the recycled materials to create clean new sharps collection containers. GSK operates a similar collection scheme for disused inhalers.
As far as waste medical PVC is concerned, it is estimated that approximately 40% of all plastic-based disposable medical devices are made from PVC. Newly formed medical PVC industry group PVCMed has announced that it is now a partner in a Swedish waste management project aimed at establishing a sustainable management system for medical plastic waste in collaboration with Vinnova, the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems. The aim of the project is to investigate how this fraction of medical waste can best be recycled.
A key issue faced by PVC recyclers is how they handle post-use products containing DEHP. DEHP is a chemical which requires registration under REACH, and while waste products sold as such do not need registration, bringing DEHP-containing PVC into the materials stream will require some careful assessment and consideration.
Commenting, PVCMed said: “A great deal of improvement in the management of medical plastic waste has been achieved during the past years. Large volumes of plastic based medical devices are not contaminated after use and can actually be recycled. This has been shown lately in Australia, where a successful PVC medical waste recycling programme has just been launched with the participation of, among others, the Vinyl Council Australia, a member of the PVCMed Alliance.
Ole Grøndahl Hansen, project manager in the PVCMed Alliance, who is participating in the above-mentioned Swedish waste management project says: “PVCMed is happy to both participate and co-finance this interesting and important project. All partners have a valuable expertise in different areas of knowledge, and I am sure that this coalition of people has good potential to perform remarkable results on how medical plastic waste can be managed and recycled in the future.”
Medical Plastics News asked the owner of a UK-based residential home for elderly people who can no longer care for themselves about how easy it would be to recycle some of the single use plastic devices she buys. Her response was: "We use a lot of plastic devices which never come into contact with anything toxic, particularly those used to deliver saline and nutritional feeding compounds. These would be so easy to recycle, as long as we didn't have to pay." She added: "If we were given the colour-coded boxes with clear instructions my care staff could easily conform to a recycling regime. We already pay for our sharps waste to be collected so something could be integrated there."
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