Sustainability assessment of pre-treatment methods for plastic waste from hospitals in Sweden

This study presents results of the sustainability assessment of treatment options for plastic waste from hospitals. The work has been carried out within work package five of the RE:Source project “Sustainable treatment of plastic waste from hospitals”. The main research question in the project is whether pre-treatment could remove potential risks and enable more recycling of plastic waste from hospitals. The evaluation is divided into assessment of environmental, economic and social factors. In the environmental assessment, two types of pre-treatment technology and subsequent recycling have been compared with incineration using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). A qualitative economic assessment investigates cost components connected to different actors in the value chain if pre-treatment were to be introduced. In the qualitative social assessment, interviews have been used to investigate the acceptance, work load and attitudes among staff connected to sorting and pre-treatment of plastic waste.

Results show that pre-treatment and recycling is beneficial from a climate perspective, even with material losses and assumed quality reduction of the recycled material. The pre-treatment solutions are probably too costly to invest in for most hospitals, and the shredding of material in the process presents challenges to subsequent sorting and separation.

There is a delicate balance between work load for employees and separate sorting of different fractions, but there are also success stories where recycling of specific fractions bring revenue to hospitals already today. Key factors for successful sorting include well planned sorting infrastructure, sufficient storage space, good communication and internal quality control.

To facilitate more sustainable procurement of plastics, networking and knowledge sharing between regions would be helpful. Expert support in terms of comparable LCA results and procurement guidelines could also provide support to buyers.

Last, but not least, we found that the motivation of employees is more of a driver than a challenge for increased sorting and recycling: the majority of hospital staff is positive to separate sorting of plastics!

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