International, Profiles

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 specigic 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.

Once hospital management approves participation in the program, the local collector delivers the bins and stickers.

“Through the support of our partners we aim for the program to be cost-neutral to healthcare facilities.

“It is cost-effective for them to participate in the PVC recycling program rather than send the material to landfill.”

Aces Medical Waste collects the materials from Victoria, while State Waste Services collects in NSW, Baxter in Queensland, Stateline in Tasmania, SUEZ in WA and Veolia in SA.

Sophi says the program can collect from most metropolitan hospitals in Australia.

“In NZ the material is collected by Baxter and delivered to Matta Products in Auckland. In Australia, all the material is consolidated and delivered to Welvic in Victoria, where it is shredded, washed and granulated.

“The separation wash yields clean, high quality PVC and Welvic then reprocess that into granulate or compound pellets and sell it onto manufacturers to use in place of virgin materials.

“From there, the plastics go on to make safety mats, garden hoses and industrial hoses.”

One of the benefits of this recyclate is that colour can be added to it, Sophi says, offering a wider range of potential end uses as volumes grow.

Sophi explains that Welvic has processed up to 100 tonnes of PVC plastics in 2016 and looks forward to considerable expansion in the coming years.

She notes that a bulk of waste in hospitals poses challenges for both hospitals and recyclers.

To read more, see page 50 of Issue 12.

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