A little background
RecoMed was started in 2014 by Axion Consulting in partnership with the British Plastics Federation and funded by VinylPlus, the voluntary commitment to sustainability of the European PVC manufacturers. The scheme was set up as a pilot. The main objectives were to find out if it was possible to work with the NHS to divert single use PVC medical devices such as oxygen masks, tubing, IV bags and nasal cannula from disposal to recycling and create a new useful product from the collected material.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we took the decision to put collections on hold. Meanwhile, we have been hard at work redesigning the scheme to ensure that we can expand in a manner that limits our climate impact, enables us to service more hospitals and contributes positively to our society. To this end, we have made some changes to the way we will be providing the scheme when we reopen.
Reducing our climate impact
Back-hauling material and round-robin collection arrangements
In order to minimise our climate impact, we are asking our participating hospitals to engage with their waste management service providers and facilities teams, to investigate how to utilise their existing transport movements and current facilities to collect the PVC material and consolidate it into larger loads. This has been successfully modelled by Grundon Waste Management for several years and has enabled their hospitals to divert over 4 tonnes of PVC medical devices since 2017. You can read more about our partnership with Grundon here.
There are other models that we will implement, including round-robin collections of material from Trusts or from those hospitals that are close to each other.
Moving our reprocessing sites closer to the action
We have partnered with the New Futures Network and HM Prison Service to provide sorting and recycling facilities closer to where the majority of the material we collect is generated. We plan to replicate this arrangement in other areas of the country, meaning that we can set up new recycling facilities in areas close to our highest producing hospitals. This will minimise transport distances and the associated carbon emissions.
Through our partnership with the New Futures Network, the men and women working on the PVC material will also be working towards earning relevant qualifications to help ensure a successful transition to life after their release from prison. We are proud to be able to support the New Futures Network and help to provide a route into employment and more positive outcomes for prisoners.
Ensuring RecoMed will continue into the future
Our pilot study has shown that PVC can be successfully separated in clinical environments and recycled into new products. In 2019, over 9 tonnes of PVC oxygen masks, anaesthetic masks and tubing were collected by our participating hospitals, bringing the total recycled to over 24 tonnes. This equates to over 800,000 oxygen masks diverted from disposal!
RecoMed began as a pilot study and the service provided was free of charge while we assessed the feasibility of collecting material from hospitals whilst minimising bureaucratic hurdles. However, as with any waste stream and specific collection schemes, there are costs involved in the collection and reprocessing of the material.
In order to continue this innovative recycling scheme, which has great potential to make a difference, we will be introducing an annual fee for organisations wishing to participate. This fee will be used to subsidise the cost of collecting and reprocessing the material and will be applied from the point of when we are able to restart the scheme.
For those organisations on our waiting list, thank you for your interest, please know that we are working hard to expand the scheme to you in due course.
We really want to thank those members of staff, both healthcare professionals and waste managers at our partner hospitals who have engaged with us to start this innovative collection scheme for medical devices. Your efforts have proven that it is entirely possible to divert these single use items from disposal to recycling. Your support has enabled RecoMed to grow and adapt, to try new methods and learn from our combined experience. We look forward to continuing to work with you to push the boundaries of medical plastic recycling in the future.