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RecoMed: a growing PVC recycling scheme for anaesthetists

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Pioneered by anaesthetists, the award-winning RecoMed national PVC collection scheme for single-use waste PVC medical devices is now established in ten hospitals where it is helping clinical teams to increase recycling and reduce waste costs in theatres.

 Run by project partners Axion Consulting, a resource recovery specialist and the British Plastics Federation (BPF), RecoMed RecoMed bin 2supplies recycling containers, communication materials and collections to participating NHS and private hospitals. Axion Consultant Robert Russell reports on the scheme’s success to date and plans for the future.

 Since RecoMed was established three years ago, more and more hospitals are collecting and sending for recycling PVC items used by healthy patients who have undergone elective surgery. As well as helping participating hospitals to increase their recycling rates, it’s also delivering valuable savings on disposal costs too.

Funded by VinylPlus, the voluntary sustainable development programme of the European PVC industry, the scheme provides an alternative, sustainable disposal route for waste medical items made from high-quality medical grade PVC.

 This readily-recyclable plastic is used to make 40% of medical devices, especially those used frequently in anaesthesia and critical care. A large proportion of PVC is used in anaesthetic facemasks, post-operative oxygen masks, fluid administration sets and associated tubing – all of which can be recycled.

The average UK hospital uses more than 12,000 oxygen masks per year and around eight million anaesthetics are administered each year. That all adds up to a huge – and costly – pile of waste from these procedures.

It is estimated that up to 2,250 tonnes PVC could be recycled by collecting these items alone from 150 hospitals in the UK. The NHS spends over 80million on waste each year and so could make savings through recycling.

 How RecoMed works

 RecoMed recycling bins are provided free of charge, along with educational posters, stickers, training sessions and communication materials. These special collection containers are sited on wards next to non-infectious clinical waste bins and staff are given clear instruction on what items can be accepted for recycling. RecoMed bags are collected daily and taken to a central waste hold from where they are collected by the RecoMed team and delivered to the recycler.

A specialist recycler granulates the material, which is then treated at a temperature that denatures all biological residues. This granulated plastic is used in making 100% recycled products for the horticultural industry, such as tree ties. While it is not possible to use recycled content in new medical devices yet, the plastic can be given a second lease of life in in other types of products.

Hospitals can play a key role in helping to increase the recycling of PVC. A desire to increase recycling rates is a main driver behind joining RecoMed. Implementing the scheme is straightforward and we have had a lot of positive feedback from participating clinicians.

June Cadman, Waste Management & Environmental Services Officer at Rotherham Hospital, comments that the scheme has been ‘easy to implement’. She says: “I’ve had an excellent response from the clinical staff using the RecoMed bins. They are all accustomed to the Trust’s recycling initiatives and have given 100% support and are keen to assist.”

Recommending the scheme to other hospitals, June adds: “If you think RecoMed is for you, discuss it with other hospitals that are already using it. It is very easy to implement, providing additional recycling with no cost to the hospital for implementation. Taking part in the scheme also adds to our sustainability target as the plastic is reused in new products.”

Mark Lepine-Williams, Assistant Hotel Services Manager at another NHS hospital – Frimley Park, Surrey – says the collection scheme ‘allows the trust to recycle another product that wouldn’t normally be recycled’.

He comments: “RecoMed has been really helpful in the implementation of this. They’ve provided bins, training and support. The whole process has worked really smoothly.”

 What next for RecoMed

 Securing two accolades in just over a year has helped to raise awareness of RecoMed’s commitment to sustainability in the healthcare sector. In October 2016, RecoMed won the Sustainability category of the 2016 INOVYN Awards for its innovative approach to sustainable healthcare recycling.

Prior to that, the scheme’s excellence in sustainability was recognised with the 2015 Association for Anaesthetic and Respiratory Device Suppliers (Barema) and the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (AAGBI) Environment Award.

This award was used to produce an educational video to help hospitals understand how to implement RecoMed and reassure staff considering the scheme that if others can do it successfully, they can too. You can view it here www.recomed.uk/video/

As the driving force behind RecoMed’s early achievements, anaesthesia clearly continues to lead the way in sustainability in the NHS. The potential for further development is huge.

At a time when the NHS – and hospitals – is under greater pressure than ever to cut costs, RecoMed offers a great opportunity for the healthcare sector to ‘up their game’ when it comes to recycling, as well as to achieve very useful and valuable savings on high specialist waste disposal costs. In addition to this, RecoMed could ultimately be expanded to include single-use medical devices made from other polymers.

However, educating and engaging hospital staff is crucial. It is through the collective efforts of employees that attitudes towards waste change, the volume of recovered material grows and contamination of the collected plastic is minimised.

Recycling volumes could be potentially higher if other medical facilities, such as research establishments and care homes come on board and the scheme eventually extended to cover other plastic devices. This is a continuing focus of RecoMed’s work.

For more information on RecoMed, contact Axion Consulting on 0161 871 0567 or visit the website – www.axionconsulting.co.uk.

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