Medical PVC take-back scheme operational in seven hospitals

A collection scheme to recycle clean PVC medical waste is being implemented at seven different NHS hospitals across Britain.

Medical PVC take-back scheme operational in seven hospitalsRecoMed, a take-back project run by the British Plastics Foundation (BPF) in conjunction with Axion Consulting and funded by VinylPlus, recycles items including IV solution bags, nasal cannulas, oxygen tubes, anaesthetic masks and oxygen masks.

The BPF, announced that the scheme is now operational in seven sites, and has recycled over 830 kilogrammes (kg) of PVC medical waste since March.

By collecting these items, the scheme aims to help avoid certain medical devices unnecessarily ending up in clinical waste, which would otherwise be sent for incineration. Instead these items are recycled into products for the horticultural industry, such as tree ties, promoting a circular economy and reducing waste in this sector.

There are approximately 1,500 hospitals in the UK, and Axion, which develops and evaluates novel resource recovery processes and innovative recyclable collection systems, estimates the around 2,250 tonnes of PVC could be recycled each year by collecting oxygen masks, oxygen tubing and anaesthetic masks alone.

This is routine equipment used for the ‘smallest anaesthetic’, of which there are around eight million procedures per year across the UK, according to the RecoMed project. The average UK hospital uses over 12,000 oxygen masks each year.

As a result, BPF stated that the NHS spent approximately £87 million on waste over 2014-15, which equates to about 350,000 tonnes of waste, where 40 per cent of that figure is plastic.

Two NHS hospitals trialled the RecoMed scheme, which provides separate bins for recycling. During the pilot, RecoMed identified the most frequently used PVC items that also had a low infection risk, which were therefore classed as non-hazardous waste and suitable for recycling.

Both trials, at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey and Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, provided feedback that they were ‘happy to have saved money on their waste disposal costs and increased their overall recycling rate’.

‘PVC is easily recycled and easily identifiable’

Gillian Brown, Environment Manager at Frimley Park Hospital, said: “We use a lot of single-use plastic items in the hospital for infection control reasons, a lot of which is clean and could potentially be recycled.”

Matt Davies, Industrial Issues Executive at the BPF, added: “Between 2014 and 2015 the NHS spent £87m on waste. That equates to approximately 350,000 tonnes of waste per year, 40 per cent of which is plastic waste, a lot of that being PVC. The good news is that PVC is easily recycled and is also easily identifiable by hospital staff.”


Other circular economy models for medical equipment have been explored as part of a six-month project which began last November, conducted by Axion and medical imaging systems and therapy device suppliers Philips.

The ‘CircMed’ project, co-funded by Innovate UK, focussed on a range of medical equipment including MRI scanners, ultrasound equipment, CT scanners and X-ray equipment.

On average, medical imaging equipment has a lifespan of 10 years, which Axion claims can last another 10 years with refurbishment – as well as parts harvesting after that. The project aimed to look into why UK hospitals do not use refurbished equipment, and to explore the use of circular economy business models such as managed equipment service and pay-per-use.

More information can be found at Axion’s website.