Setting a Plastics Recycling Benchmark

Alison Bryant
March 20, 2015
Greenhealth Magazine
HPRC and Practice Greenhealth present key results from a survey on plastic packaging and products recycling in U.S. hospitals 
Health care facilities in the United States generate approximately 14,000 tons of waste per day, most of which is disposed of in landfills or by incineration. It’s estimated that between 20 percent and 25 percent of that 14,000 tons can be attributed to plastic packaging and plastic products. In addition, it’s estimated that 85 percent of the hospital waste generated is nonhazardous, meaning it is free from patient contact and contamination.
Environmental Benefits From Recycling Plastics
Recycling one ton of plastic saves:
16.3 barrels of oil
30 cubic yards of landfill space
5,774 Kwh of energy, enough to power an average house for six months
While hospitals have been champions of recycling for decades, efforts have largely focused on food service and administrative functional areas and not on patient care settings where the majority of health care plastic materials are in fact generated. To establish a baseline characterization of current plastics recycling activity across the U.S. health care system, and, in particular, to better understand the challenges limiting plastics recycling in patient care areas, the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) in collaboration with Practice Greenhealth recently conducted a survey, receiving responses from 207 individual healthcare professionals representing individual hospitals, or in some cases hospital networks, that include as many as 663 hospitals nationwide.
The survey was sent to health care professionals across Facilities, EHS (Environment, Health and Safety), Environmental Services, Procurement, Sustainability and Clinical Staff departments. Targeting clean, noninfectious plastic waste materials, the survey sought to distinguish what the current activity level is and the types of both products and packaging being collected and recycled from various clinical settings. The survey also explored general recycling practices, including material accumulation methods, equipment use and waste hauling of recovered plastics.