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Recycled Medical Grade – Circular economy for Plastics

Plastics have been an essential part of medical technology for decades. In order to secure medical care for mankind, the material must therefore be handled in a sustainable manner.

One option: Recycling! But can recyclates be used in medical technology?

The basics : usage of plastics in medical technology

MedEco Medical Grade Compounds für Spritzen

Whether surgical instruments, syringes, bags, tubes, sterile packaging or implants - medical plastics are ubiquitous in hospitals and medical practices. The majority of these are disposable items - and they are being disposed immediately after only a few seconds of use in some cases.

Since many medical plastics are derived from a fossil, and therefore finite, source of crude oil, it is clear that it does not make sense to simply throw away plastic products after their use. But recycling is of course also sensible and possible with bioplastics.

Let's take a detailed look at the world of recycling in medical technology.

Deepdive: recycling of Medical Grade Plastics

Circular economy for medical plastics

Behind the term circular economy is the idea of reprocessing a product or parts of it at the end of its service life and returning it to the economic cycle. This process reduces the consumption of resources by, for example, using the plastic several times in the form of a product before it is landfilled or incinerated. This conserves natural resources. And this applies to fossil as well as renewable raw materials.

The healthcare industry is also expected to move toward a circular economy. A corresponding & Regulation is on it´s way. The EU commission has paved the way for the "Circular Economy Action Plan" and is now implementing it.

BIOVOX MedEco Biocompounds
Recyclebarer Kunststoff

The EU's goal is to decouple economic growth from resource consumption. This is to ensure that our economy remains successful in the long term.

By the way, composting biodegradable plastics is usually not a sustainable and ecologically sensible option. To this end, we have already written something elsewhere.

By the way, we are already on a good path - According to the Plastics Europe Report 2022 the share of recyclates in new products increased by 20% in 2021 compared to 2020.

Recycle and Reuse - what's the difference?

What does recycling stand for?

In general, "recycling" is understood to mean the preparation for reuse of raw materials that have already been used. "Recyclate" is understood as the raw material obtained through a recycling process.

Have a look at the graphic to understand the differences between "recycle" and "reuse".

Ein Gute Frage für BIOVOX

Good question: can recyclates be used in medical devices?

The Short Answer: It depends! In the following we look at the different possibilities.

#1 Possible in non-critical cases with mechanical recycling

Plastics used in medicine are subject to strict quality and safety requirements. For critical components and products only Medical Grade Plastics are used. These are all “virgin”, i.e. freshly produced from petroleum or biomass.

However, there are also medical devices or components of medical devices that are subject to less stringent requirements. For example, if they don’t have direct patient contact. Here, simple qualities such as Food Gradesare sufficient. In this case, the use of recyclates from mechanical recycling is conceivable in some cases.

Medical Grade Biokunststoff Compounds für Tiefziehen / Thermoforming
Medical device made of Medical Grade bioplastic
Reagenzglas im Labor

#2 Chemical recycling opens up opportunities

The use of materials obtained by chemical recycling is basically possible. The plastic is disassembled to the monomer and purified, so that it again meets the strict requirements for medical devices. The material is comparable to a virgin material. Due to the high energy input involved in cracking polyolefins, the environmental footprint for these plastics is significantly worse than for mechanical recycling. For bioplastics, energy-efficient depolymerization can also be used for chemical recycling. This makes bioplastics particularly interesting for high-quality recyclates.

#3 Downcycling of medical devices

In addition, the possibility exists to use mechanical recyclate obtained from uncontaminated medical devices in other industries. During recycling, the material loses or changes some of its properties, and the range of properties also increases - making it virtually impossible to use recycled materials in medical devices today. In less critical applications in other industries, however, the recyclate can be used without hesitation.

BIOVOX Material Applications
Antimikrobieller Biokunststoff

#4 Definitely not possible because of safety reasons

For safety reasons, plastics that have come into contact with body fluids must be disposed of and incinerated. Especially in these cases, it is advisable to rely on plastics made from renewable raw materials. Bioplastics have the potential to save many tons of waste in hospitals, as well as up to 70% of CO2 emissions on the manufacturer side.

Are bioplastics made from renewable raw materials an alternative?

"Renewable raw materials are particularly practicalwhen you want to close loops. Our thermoplastic BIOVOX bioplastics, for example, can be recycled like conventional thermoplastics, and chemical recycling is also possible. As very pure virgin plastics, they are also considered to be particularly sustainable: they act as a carbon reservoir for CO2 recently absorbed from the atmosphere by plants - unlike fossil plastics, which get their carbon from deposits deep in the earth. When incinerated or composted, bioplastics made from renewable raw materials also release the stored CO2. However, this CO2 cycle is many millions of years shorter than that of fossil oil."

Secure the concentrated knowledge of our BIOVOX experts: The complete overview of bioplastics, their processing, performance and regulation is available in our BE GREEN compendium.

Carmen Rommel
Carmen Rommel, founder of BIOVOX and sustainability expert
Download: The BIOVOX Compendium BE GREEN.

In a nutshell: our conclusion on Recycled Medical Grade Plastics

BIOVOX Megaphon

Conventional medical grade plastics are made from fossil resources and these are finite sources. Sustainable action is required in order to be able to use the polymer material in medical technology in the future as well. One option is to recycle medical devices and put them back into circulation as Recycled Medical Grade Plastics. Intelligent solutions are needed for the entire process, from product development to the final disposal.

Another option is to switch to medical grade bioplastics. Compared to conventional plastics, these are obtained from renewable resources. Because they do not come from a finite resource, medical grade bioplastics are sustainable. Especially if they are also integrated into a circular economy.

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