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Plastics & Elastomers

Changes Affecting Medical Polymers

SpecialChem / Dec 21, 2009

A growing consumer influence is, somewhat surprisingly, affecting material trends in the healthcare industry. Hospital managers, healthcare groups, and the general public are considering the ecological and environmental effects of medical plastics in their purchasing decisions, even asking for the carbon footprint of products, say industry experts. This is expected to drive changes in material and additive use, as new products that can meet use requirements and address consumer concerns are developed. One area of focus is better management of medical waste. Disposable medical devices certainly have advantages, but their increasing use is creating larger volumes of medical waste and contributing to the desire to reduce their environmental impact. One organization driving this movement is Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), which says that 80% of healthcare facility waste is non-hazardous (including paper, plastic, and food). The organization recommends rigorously segregating waste before disposal and then recycling where possible. "Producers of medical devices are asking about the components in their devices, looking ahead to understanding how they can be reprocessed back into the marketplace and kept out of landfills," comments Joe Kutka, technology launch manager for PolyOne's GLS TPEs. Groups like HCWH are also calling for reduced incineration of medical waste because they say it produces dioxins. Although HCWH points to PVC as a concern during incineration, The Vinyl Institute replies that a study by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers "found no relationship between the chlorine content of waste like vinyl and dioxin emissions from combustion processes under real-life conditions. The amount of chlorine or vinyl going into the incinerator is not a reliable indicator of the amount of dioxin coming out. Rather, incinerator design and operation (primarily temperature) have far more important impacts."

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