The challenge: Call for sustainable transformation
Single-use items are often preferred in the healthcare sector because of their hygienic advantages, such as substantially reducing the risk of infection transmission. After use, however, single-use items generate a vast amount of residual waste that is often sent for incineration.
In close collaboration with three regions in Denmark, ABENA started a pilot project in 2022. The goal was to investigate the possibilities of reusing disposable textiles from hospitals as a means to increase circularity and reduce residual waste, thus bringing down CO2 emissions.
The solution: Circular economy and material collection
Together with three Danish regions, ABENA initiated the project to collect and investigate specific single-use items and the possibility of recycling them into new raw materials.
In the first part of the project, the possibility of creating circularly reusable disposable textiles was investigated.
Throughout six weeks, the three Danish regions collected single-use patient and staff clothes, sheets, and pillowcases made from mono-material (textiles that consist of only one material, in this case, PPE). The used items were sorted into bags made of the same material as the patient’s clothing and linen, with the expectation to avoid further sorting.
140 kg of single-use clothing was transported to an external partner who transformed the materials into plastic pellets. The goal was to test the quality of the new plastic pellets and to investigate the possibility of reusing the plastic pellets into other disposable items with the same hygiene standard as before.
To achieve circular recycling, disposable textiles must be able to be broken down and reused for new patient clothing and linen, without affecting quality or hygiene standards. If successful, it will result in a total reduction in residual waste, as production and consumption feed each other (source: EU).
Results: Increasing focus on circularity
After the project period, it is clear that single-use clothing can be downcycled into plastic pellets and afterward recycled into new plastic products. Another learning is that the correct sorting of materials at the hospitals is necessary for the project to succeed.
ABENA has still to investigate how sorting affects additional factors, including work environment and risk of transmission of infectious diseases.
All new processes regarding sorting of disposable protective wear and bed protection cannot compromise safety and comfort for any involved user. It is paramount to ensure that no one will come into contact with contaminated materials or be at risk of contamination.
For that reason, it is crucial that the hospitals establish specific waste fractions for single-use items for recycling to take place.