In its recent white paper, “Advanced Recycling of Healthcare Plastics: An Opportunity for Circularity,” the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) describes opportunities to expand current health care recycling capabilities with new technologies that require less sorting from facilities staff and no additional logistical challenges beyond those required by traditional mechanical recycling.

Through a literature review and outreach to selected organizations, HPRC found many health care organizations have faced challenges in waste collection and handling logistics. Mixed material streams have proven to be a barrier to effective recycling programs due to traditional recycling processes’ low tolerance for contamination from undesired resins and foreign materials. However, advanced recycling technologies, including depolymerization and thermal conversion — which break down plastic waste that is too degraded, complex or contaminated to be recycled by mechanical means — are becoming more common. 

Thanks to fast-changing regulations around plastic waste, the American Chemistry Council has tracked 66 new recycling projects between July 2017 and February 2020. This means that there is more opportunity than ever to expand a systemwide sustainability commitment to include recycling. 

HPRC’s HospiCycle guide can help hospitals in successfully integrating recycling practices into a patient care setting. 

“Through a step-by-step approach, this guide is intended to help hospitals navigate the process of activating a plastics recycling program from initial planning and business decisions through program implementation and improvement considerations,” an HPRC spokesperson says. 

HPRC suggests health care facilities staff improve recycling programs by first working with suppliers to identify packaging and other materials that can be recycled. The council also advises working with procurement to ensure waste contracts incentivize, or at least do not disincentivize, recycling.