Kaiser Permanente, Goodwill Partner on Healthcare Plastics Recycling Project

When you find yourself at a hospital or the doctor’s office, most likely the last thing you’re thinking about is how much waste the healthcare field generates (for good reason, health clearly takes priority over work).

But it’s an issue. A big one. According to the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC), U.S. healthcare facilities generate about 14,000 tons of waste per day, most of which is thrown in landfills or incinerated. They estimate that about 20-25% of that is plastic packaging and plastic products. Yikes.

Anyway, so I was interested to read from HPRC about a new initiative involving healthcare recycling and Goodwill (it was news to me that Goodwill is involved in the recycling industry). The partnership between Kaiser Permanente and Goodwill Southern California began in 2009 when the healthcare provider was seeking an outlet for its 20 tons/year of blue wrap, a nonwoven material made from polypropylene used for wrapping surgical instruments for sterilization. Kaiser Permanente has a bold waste reduction target: recycle, re-use or compost 100% of their non-hazardous waste materials by 2025.

“At Kaiser, we’ve set ambitious environmental performance goals,” says Tim Eng, environmental health and safety manager at Kaiser Permanente. “As part of our zero-waste strategy, we needed a partner to help us manage the blue wrap generated in our surgery centers and operating rooms. Goodwill Industries was already supporting our business operations with document destruction and e-waste recycling, so approaching them about blue wrap recycling seemed like a good fit. They were very open to the opportunity, recognizing mutual benefit for both of our organizations.”

About 760 pounds of blue wrap is collected every week from 13 Kaiser Permanente facilities around the Los Angeles area. The material is picked up by Goodwill of Southern California and brought to its L.A. and San Bernardino facilities for sorting, which includes removing paper tape from the polypropylene woven material. After sorting, Goodwill then sells the blue wrap to a recycler, who in turn reprocesses the plastic into pellets that can be used in various products, including wash buckets, lawn furniture, flowerpots, plastic lumber and carpeting.

HPRC has launched a project to investigate how the Kaiser Permanente-Goodwill model can be replicated in other parts of the country. Hopefully it’s a model that we’ll soon see nationwide.

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