Ampoules and needle caps were recycled into new building materials as part of a pilot project to tackle plastic waste in the healthcare sector.
In just three months, more than 80,000 pieces of clinical waste plastic were collected – almost equal to the total amount of plastic food packaging collected in litter clean-ups across Australia in 2018-19.
The project was initiated by NSW Circular and conducted at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney. Orange-based company Allmould Plastics Group recycled the ampoules and needle caps with support of SMaRT@UNSW Sydney.
The project included selected clinical areas in the hospital, which accounted for 28 per cent of all ampoules and 11 per cent of all needle caps used. If the scheme was expanded to cover all clinical use of these two items alone, nearly two million pieces of plastic (weighing more than four tonnes) would be recovered from this one hospital over a year.
The report, Plastics in Healthcare: A Circular Economy Transition Plan found the project’s environmental benefits were matched by significant potential job creation.
By recycling just 40-60 per cent of the clinical waste currently incinerated or landfilled, New South Wales hospitals could create annual savings equivalent to the cost of hiring 40 nurses, it states. The report also found nearly 30 new additional jobs could be created in plastics recycling by turning high quality clinical plastic into new components.
Stuart Ayres, NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, said hospitals are estimated to generate 52,400 tonnes of waste a year – weighing as much as the Sydney Harbour Bridge – which cost the NSW Government at least $16 million to dispose of.
“If every hospital in NSW undertook this program, we would be able to unlock significant savings that could be reinvested into patient care and essential services. At the same time, we would divert plastic waste from our environment and create new jobs and economic opportunities in recycling these materials,” he said.
“This report shows the important role the circular economy can play in growing jobs and building new industries for NSW. This pilot project shows the economic value that exists in many of our hospital waste streams, with clear implications for the economic opportunities that exist in many other sectors,” he said.
“This shows why we need strong industry, government and research collaboration to keep resources from going to waste.”
Associate Professor Anthony Schembri AM, Chief Executive Officer at St Vincent’s Hospital said the project proves that it is possible to extract value and design out waste without compromising health or safety.
“Recycling even just two items across all clinical use can recover nearly two million pieces, or four tonnes of plastic per year, in just one of our hospitals alone. It’s just the beginning”.
Rodrigo Fritis-Lamora, Heart/Lung Transplant Co-ordinator at St Vincent’s Hospital who implemented the project said: “We see enormous amounts of plastic waste going in the bin every day, it is truly disheartening.”
“Being at the frontlines, staff have a huge desire to see more sustainable practices and we’re just so happy to see our efforts resulting in real benefits to both the hospital and environment.”
Scott Cantrill, Client Adviser, Allmould Plastic Group said that as a result of the project the group is negotiating with waste service companies and hospitals to increase its plastic feedstock and capacity and hopes to expand its operations.
NSW Circular has entered new partnerships with Hunter New England and Northern Sydney Local Health Districts to divert waste from landfill, drive efficiencies and new jobs and investment.