Plastic has long made a huge difference in the medical industry with a staring role in the prevention of the spread of infectious diseases. With the benefits, of course, come massive amounts of waste, from single use syringes to inhalers to dialysis tubing. Meanwhile plastic is integral to the entire medical industry’s supply chain, and demand will only surge as the population ages.
Dealing with medical waste is a challenging issue for the facilities that generate it as well as for the municipalities tasked with disposal. Concern over medical waste is nothing new–hypodermic needles washed up on New Jersey’s beaches in the 1980s and now Rhode Island has taken a step toward requiring manufacturers to deal with the disposal of their products. Nevertheless, it is doubtful your pharmacist will turn to the brown glass bottles that were stacked in our grandparents’ medical cabinet, and bioplastic syringes work well for jello shots at fraternity parties but have not gained widespread acceptance at hospitals. A coalition of several leading health care, recycling, and waste management companies promises to address both recycling and packaging issues that result from this industry.
The new Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) includes companies that represent the entire supply chain of the medical products industry, including Du Pont, Kimberly-Clark, Johnson & Johnson, and Waste Management.
This collaborative effort will explore the development of more sustainable health care products, less wasteful packaging, and an increase in plastics for medical use. The companies, which also include BD Biosciences, Cardinal Health, Epi Recycling Solutions, and Hospira, will work to identify barriers to the recycling of plastics and find targeted solutions throughout the medical products supply chain.
The HPRC also promises to confront the demand for plastics at its source. The coalition is creating a set of guidelines for vendors to consider designs of products and packaging that will enhance their eventual recycling’s potential. At the end of these products’ use, the HPRC also promises advice for recycling and waste disposals interested in this space.
Yesterday’s launch of the HPRC is a small but significant step, with more to follow. Pilot studies are underway that have recycled 20,000 pounds of plastics, and one project focuses on the development of a data model that will build an economic analysis of plastics recycling. If the HPRC can find successes that meet and exceed its current expectations, we could very well see new innovation in plastics packaging and recycling–and society treating plastic not as a mere convenience or annoyance, but a valuable resource.