Hospitals complete plastics recycling pilot project in the Chicago market

Hospitals complete plastics recycling pilot project in the Chicago market

The project, led by the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council and the Plastics Industry Association, reveals the complexities around plastic market economics and behavioral change.

December 20, 2016
Recycling Today Staff

The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC), St. Paul, Minnesota, in collaboration with the Plastics Industry Association (Plastics), Washington, has announced the completion of a multihospital plastics recycling project in the Chicago market. Focused on noninfectious plastic packaging and products collected from clinical areas of the hospitals, the project sought to demonstrate a viable business model for recycling healthcare plastics on a regional level. A complete report, detailing project development, implementation and analysis can be found at www.hprc.org/chicago-project.

Participating hospitals included Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Evanston, Skokie and Glenbrook hospitals. These hospitals collected a variety of health care plastics, primarily from main operating rooms and ambulatory surgery centers, including polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) resins in the form of sterilization wrap, irrigation bottles, basins, pitchers, trays, Tyvek and rigid and flexible packaging materials. These materials were then transported by waste haulers to material recovery facilities (MRFs) for assessments related to composition and quality. Complexity of material types, improper sorting and the presence of nonconforming materials were the primary challenges in being able to extract the recycling value from the materials, according to the project.

“This project provided valuable insights into the realities of implementing plastics recycling programs in clinical health care settings,” says Chris Rogers, HPRC project manager. “What we learned is that collection of plastics must be made simple for clinical staff in order to be effective. Detailed sorting at the point of generation is too complex and a distant priority from clinician’s primary focus of ensuring positive patient outcomes. It’s also important to remember that behavioral change around recycling can be a slow process, one that takes constant reinforcement over time.”

Companies providing logistics and recycling support included Houston-based Waste Management; LakeShore Recycling Systems, Morton Grove, Illinois; and Antek Madison, with locations in Chicago and Toronto. Key Green Solutions LLC, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a sustainability management software service provider, collected and maintained project metrics. Placon, Madison, Wisconsin, provided additional financial support to the project as an interested end-user looking to create new products from the recycled materials. Petoskey Plastics, headquartered in Petoskey, Michigan, supplied specialized bags for collection and transportation of the plastic materials.

“In addition to testing the recovery and mechanical recycling of health care plastics, we were also able to explore alternative pathways of chemical recycling and conversion to fuel products with our technology partners,” says Kim Holmes, senior director of recycling and diversion at Plastics. “Proving the value of these hospital plastics in the conversion process was an exciting dimension of this project and underscores the importance of adding nonmechanical recovery technologies to our resource management tool kit.”

According to HPRC, additional key project insights include:

  • Keep it simple – Collection of plastic materials must be simple for clinical staff participation.
  • Program champions are critical – Tap engaged and committed program champions within each stakeholder group.
  • Behavioral change is a process – Remember that behavioral change can be slow and requires consistent reinforcement of the desired behaviors.
  •  Discuss ownership – All stakeholders need to discuss and agree on who will be responsible for sorting as comingled materials have marginal value.
  • The economics must work – To make a business case, plastic materials must be available in sufficient volumes and processes must be in place to ensure a clean supply.