Australian recycling program inspires international schemes

A product stewardship program in Australia has prevented hundreds of tonnes of polyvinyl chloride plastics from going to landfill. Sophi Macmillan, of the Vinyl Council of Australia, explains how it gained traction.

In 2009, the Vinyl Council of Australia commenced a pilot program into a unique hospital recycling initiative.

The council had a clear goal in mind – to reduce quality polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVC) going to landfill.

Now almost 10 years down the track, the PVC Recycling in Hospitals program has become an international success, operating in more than 90 hospitals and healthcare facilities across Australia and New Zealand.

The product stewardship program has been such a hit that it inspired similar initiatives in the United Kingdom and South Africa with several hospitals adopting the program.

The council has also received enquiries about its program from Canada, the US, Malaysia, Brazil and Turkey, and continues to give presentations at international conferences about the program.

Sophi MacMillan, CEO of the Vinyl Council of Australia, believes that about 50 million IV bags are used annually in Australia alone.

Together with oxygen face masks and tubing, at least 2500 tonnes of locally recyclable material are available for collection and reprocessing.

She says feasibility studies were conducted over two years with Melbourne’s Western Health, before launching it to other healthcare facilities across Australia.

This revealed which areas of the hospitals the program worked best in, who needed to be consulted, engaged and trained and the process of collecting and moving the material to Australian recyclers.

“This program is unusual as it is a specific material that we are collecting, not cardboard or commingled materials. The collectors are under contract to collect the vinyl and deliver it to a specific destination,” Sophi says.

“We have grown gradually through word of mouth. It’s been quite organic where those nurses and staff who are keen to recycle contact us to participate in the program.”

Sophi says that after engaging with hospital staff, the council helps them determine the number of bins, as well as the frequency of collection and cost of the recycling program, which depends upon size and location.

One of the partners, Baxter Healthcare, assists hospitals in its network through this process.

To read more, see page 50 of Issue 12.