PVC Medical Waste

PVC Medical Waste

Recycling PVC Medical 'Waste'

A major positive feature of medical PVC products (IV bags, face masks and tubes) is that they are made of one plastic, not multiple layers of diverse plastics. This means 1. the PVC products are recyclable and 2. there is a market for the quality material.

For this reason, the Vinyl Council's PVC medical recycling program is growing around Australasia, and taking off in countries such as UK and South Africa and other parts of the world.

The Vinyl Council started this program with the vision and persistence of Forbes McGain, of Western Hospital Melbourne, Australia in 2009. He was determined to reduce the continued and unsustainable loss of valuable material to landfill. After numerous trials in different sections of the hospital to ascertain the best value for effort and minimal contamination, and negotiations bringing together external players to start collection and reprocessing, the PVC Medical recycling program has became a reality.

With the backing of Baxter Healthcare, PVC recycling has grown with hospital collections in NZ, Tasmania, Vic, NSW and is about to start in SA and WA. PVC is also now collected from patient home care services via renal units in NSW, Vic and SA. The recyclate (used IV bags, face masks and tubing) is being made into new hoses for gardens and industrial uses. Contact the Vinyl Council if you would like more information on how to join this initiative.

Claims about PVC

Sometimes claims are made suggesting that PVC is not a suitable material for medical products because the manufacture of PVC and incineration of PVC products may release dioxins. 

Dioxin emissions arise from a range of sources, generally from burning, such as agricultural burn offs. A report to the Australian Government's Environment Department estimates that 60–80 per cent of dioxin emissions to air in Australia actually arise from agricultural burning off, residential wood combustion and bushfires. Medical incinerators, municipal waste incinerators and halogen chemical manufacture (such as PVC production) all together contribute less than 1 per cent in total. The key determinants of incinerator dioxin generation are combustion temperature and efficiency of cool-down, rather than the chlorine content of the material.

The fact is that the process of recycling PVC derived from hospitals does not release dioxins as the material is reprocessed for new product at a low temperature; it is not incinerated.

To view more about dioxin emissions go to our section on Dioxins in PVC.  To read more about how to appropriately burn PVC medical waste through incinerators, go to the VinylsPlus publication Dioxins and PVC - A troubled past, a brighter future.