The potential of medical device recycling

Hospitals use a lot of single-use PVC-based medical devices every day. Besides being safe and affordable, PVC is easily recyclable and keeps its technical properties through numerous recycling cycles. Also, many of the devices are used on non-infectious patients. These advantages have led to the set-up of medical devices recycling systems in the healthcare sector.

In Australia and New Zealand, more than 200 hospitals collect IV bags, face masks and oxygen tubing for recycling. The scheme is run by the Vinyl Council of Australia with support from medical device manufacturer Baxter. The recyclate, which is of high-grade quality, is used to manufacture mats, hoses and other useful products.

In the UK around 30 hospitals collect oxygen masks and tubing through the RecoMed pilot scheme, which is supported by VinylPlus® and the British Plastics Federation. The recyclate is used to manufacture horticultural products. So far, the collected and recycled PVC in the UK equates more than 750,000 oxygen masks.

In South Africa, PVC IV bags are recycled into school shoes for disadvantaged children. Only 20 IV bags are needed for a pair of shoes. Because the shoes are made entirely of PVC, they are 100% recyclable. When the shoes get too small for the kids, they hand them over for recycling and then get a new pair of appropriate size. The programme has helped to incubate new small businesses.

In September 2020 the Vinyl Institute of Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada launched the PVC 123 pilot programme for PVC oxygen delivery devices, PVC oxygen tubing, PVC fluid bags/containers.

About 25 hospitals in Guatamala collect used PVC medical devices for recycling. The PVC is recycled into shoes that are distributed to school children in Guatemala City. The shoes are handmade by indigenous Kekchis women, which provides jobs and income to this minority group.

In Colombia, PVC used in dialysis clinics and home dialysis patients are collected. Through collaboration with local organisations, the waste is recycled into chairs, water hoses and other applications.

In Thailand, PVC dialysis bags are being collected and recycled. It started with one hospital in 2015 and has now expanded to cover several hospitals. Work is ongoing to make the programme national.

Why recycle medical devices?

The potential for medical device recycling is huge, as studies show that only a small fraction of the medical plastic waste is infectious. By recycling medical devices both hospitals and the environment win:

Cost savings for hospitals

Hospitals can save money on waste management by sorting out devices for collection and recycling rather than sending them to costly incineration.

CO2 savings

For each kilo of PVC recycled, 2 kilos of CO2 are saved.

Energy savings

Energy savings of up to 90% are achieved when using recycled PVC instead of virgin PVC.

Low risk of contamination

In existing PVC recycling schemes in hospitals, only devices used on pre-screened patients are collected for recycling. The practice thus poses no greater risk than recycling of used soda or drinking water bottles.

High grade recyclate

High grade PVC is used for medical devices. The recyclate can be turned into a wide variety of useful products.

Untapped resource

It has been calculated that a 300-bed hospital could recycle 2.5 tonnes/year of PVC oxygen masks & tubing, IV bags and nasal cannulaes.

For each kilogramme of PVC recycled, two kilogrammes of CO2 are saved

Learn more about medical device recycling