The St. Paul, Minnesota-based Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) has begun a project to determine viable strategies for recycling multimaterial flexible plastic packaging currently being discarded by hospitals. The HPRC is working with researchers at the Plastics Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell to test whether commercially available compatibilizers improve blend properties when compounded with multimaterial flexible plastics. Additionally, through blending trials and material analysis, the project aims to identify potential end market applications for the recycled product.
“Based on our research and data, up to 60 percent of plastic waste generated by health care facilities is flexible material,” says Chris Rogers, HPRC project manager. “The challenge with health care flexibles is that they are often composed of multi-material laminates, which are unrecyclable when using common recycling technologies. Through this project, we hope to shed some light on the physical properties these materials will have when processed with different types of compatibilizers applied in varying concentrations. By better understanding these properties, recyclers can better determine potential opportunities to compound these materials with other products for resale markets and therefore better understand their value.”
Collection of flexible plastic materials, including sterilization wrap and Tyvek and film packaging, will begin at a number of hospitals by the end of March 2018. The goal is to collect and ship 2,000 pounds of material to the Erema Group, a Germany-based manufacturer of plastic recycling equipment, where it will undergo initial processing at its Ipswich, Massachusetts, facility.
After that, the material will be delivered to UMass Lowell, where compatibilizers will be added to the materials prior to extrusion and injection molding. Following this, the materials will undergo testing and analysis with project results anticipated by the middle of the summer of 2018.
The project is being funded by HPRC members Baxter, BD, DuPont, Eastman, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and Nelipak Healthcare Packaging, with additional funding provided by the Flexible Packaging Association.
“Our end goal here is to help establish a methodology recyclers can use to process these flexible materials into recycled products and keep them out of landfills,” Rogers says.