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Welsh company pioneers clinical waste recycling process

The Cardiff-based company, Thermal Compaction Group (TCG) has developed a new clinical waste recycling process, which could transform how healthcare providers deal with clinical waste and create a new revenue stream for a cash-strapped NHS.

TCG, a waste management group that seeks to offer solutions to global waste problems, has created a new Sterimelt machine that recycles clinical sterilization wrap in a bid to reduce waste disposal costs and improve sustainability in hospitals.

Welsh company pioneers clinical waste recycling process
A Sterimelt machine

The machine creates briquettes from polypropylene, the base element in waste sterilization wrap used in hospitals to protect sterilized surgical instruments.

This melts the wrap material and converts it into a liquid that solidifies in a mold cavity, creating a 12-20 kilogram block.

The operating temperature needed to melt the material is much higher than a normal sterilization process, but is low enough to avoid the carbonization or deterioration of the material, meaning that it retains recyclate value.

The briquettes, sterilized with an 85 per cent volumetric reduction, can then be sold on by the hospital and reintroduced into the supply chain to be used in the manufacture of a range of products such as furniture, fence posts, and many other domestic and industrial products.

“The first of its kind in the world”

This innovation is designed to tackle the vast amount of clinical waste produced each year, with US hospitals producing 2.2 billion kilograms of medical waste each year, of which 20 per cent is sterilization wrap. Furthermore, an average sized hospital will produce around 100 kilograms of sterilization wrap waste a day, which is then disposed in landfill or incinerated.

TCG completed a year long trial of the machine at St Woolos Hospital in Newport, which one of Wales’s oldest hospitals and part of the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB). As part of the trial, clinical waste was also taken from the nearby North Gwent hospital.

Commenting on the initiative, Tim Hourahine, Technical and Compliance Manager at TCG, said: "This is the first of its kind in the world. The trial has shown that we can take the wrap as waste, reduce its volume substantially, render it inert and then re-introduce it to the supply chain. The Welsh NHS is taking a close interest in what we are doing and other hospitals are very keen to embrace the technology. 

“Currently, the majority of waste wrap is either landfilled or incinerated which is exceptionally expensive. The recycling process removes that cost, plus it produces a workable product which will have a commercial value in the future." 

Mr Peter White, the Waste and Environmental Manager for the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said: "Before we implemented this system, all the wrap was going out as infectious clinical waste so there is a significant disposal cost when it goes to alternative heat treatment [incineration].”

“The saving at North Gwent hospital alone is £1000 per month. Once we expand this across the other hospital sites within the health board, this will increase significantly. This is a big bonus in that it will save us money with our waste revenue budget, in addition to creating an income and a revenue stream for the health board.

“I think this will go global. It has had a lot of interest from across the world, especially NHS Scotland and Wales, and I think it’s going to be a very successful project.”

The funding for the project is provided by the Bevan Commission in Wales and its Efficiency Through Technology Fund, which TCG played a key role in securing.

You can read more about TCG’s Sterimelt and its other recycling projects on its website.

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