How Can We Make Healthcare Plastics More Recyclable?
HPRC’s new packaging design guidelines shed light on preferred materials for improving recyclability.
The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) has updated its packaging design guidelines to educate design teams about practices that may hinder the recyclability of plastics used in hospitals.
According to project leaders Rachel Hogan, R&D sustainability engineer – healthcare at Amcor, and Cristina Van Loy, senior manager – environmental sustainability at Thermo Fisher Scientific, much has changed since HPRC Design Guidelines for Optimal Hospital Plastics Recycling was last updated in 2016. Current trends in healthcare and sustainability, technological advancements, and the expanded membership and knowledge base of HPRC provided the impetus for the new document.
What’s new in the updated guide?
The guidance provides more in-depth detail for packaging engineers and product developers on how they can make improvements to healthcare plastics for greater recyclability. It provides recommendations for preferred materials for mechanical recycling processes and describes potential future opportunities for the use of advanced recycling technologies.
To provide a more comprehensive document, the guide includes input and highlights from other organizations working in this space, including the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), RecyClass, and the Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX).
While other design guidance for recyclability exists, HPRC project leaders share that those guides do not address the unique aspects of healthcare industry sterile barrier requirements. It is this gap that the HPRC design guidance fills. The guidance will continue to be revised and updated on a regular basis as technology advances and trends in hospital plastics recycling evolve.
Support from the packaging community.
The updated design guidance was launched at the[PACK]out conference in May, and reactions from the packaging community have been positive. Packaging engineers are increasingly aware of the limited end-of-use options for healthcare packaging, and they are looking for opportunities to integrate sustainability into their businesses. They are also realizing that they have an important role to play in increasing the opportunity to recycle waste packaging materials and appreciate guidance in making decisions that will improve recyclability.
According to project leaders, feedback has been positive because the guidance is more compatible with current recycling infrastructure. Additionally, the guidance takes a more detailed look at the most common healthcare plastics by outlining specific materials that are preferred and less preferred for mechanical recycling.
“There are many barriers to recycling healthcare products and packaging today, but it is through resources like this that we can start to shed some light on the possibilities for recycling these materials,” says Hogan. “The HPRC project team involved in this work was extremely collaborative, and I continue to be impressed with both the amount of expertise this group holds and the willingness of the HPRC community to put forth their time and effort to create resources that benefit the entire industry.”