King County Medical Industry Round Table (MIRT)

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Medical Industry
Waste Prevention Round Table

The Blue Wrap Recycling Program
A Summary/ Update - November 1, 2000

In the early to mid-1990's, Polypropylene Blue Wrap was collected from several area hospitals, along with a number of other plastic items. Due to market conditions and issues with the processing facility, the pilot program was discontinued in WA, and today only continues in the Portland region.

Through a Medical Plastics seminar sponsored by the Medical Industry Waste Prevention Roundtable, several WA hospitals expressed interest in revitalizing the recycling program for this material. Significantly, Kimberly-Clark, the major supplier of the material, offered to continue making available a 3¢/lb. subsidy to hospitals to help cover transportation and other costs of recycling. (The money is paid based upon pounds of product sold into an institution, not pounds of material recovered.)

Through a series of meetings and conversations, several key elements of a revitalized program are in place. For example, a number of hospitals are interested in collecting the material, and have committed to initiating a collection program once a transportation and processing infrastructure are in place.

A few haulers have expressed a willingness to work with their existing hospital accounts (as well as others) to establish a creative collection system for separated blue wrap. This could include for example putting clear bags of collected bluewrap in with a mixed paper stream. The mixed load would then be transported, as usual, to a recycling center for consolidation.

A healthy end market has been identified that is willing to accept sorted blue wrap. This market will use the material to combine with other plastic film and urban wood waste to create a building panel for use in new construction. If the material has been sorted and baled, the market can make available a payment of up to 4¢/lb.

At this point, the only missing link in the collection and processing chain is a means to sort the material. The end market requires a simple sort to visually confirm that the load only contains unstained bluewrap. While the sort on the face of it is quite simple, and is being done for the Legacy collection program, finding space, staff, and budget to handle this link in the chain is proving elusive. (Legacy has a unique arrangement with an organization employing a disabled workforce. They use Legacy workspace, and sort many different materials.)

We have been in touch with third-party, non-profit sorters. While interested, they will need to be compensated for their time (beyond the value of the material) and no hospitals have expressed the ability to pay labor costs for sorting. (Even avoided disposal costs due to blue wrap diversion at hospitals does not represent a significant cash flow, even if it could be contributed by the hospital to a third-party sorter.)

At this time we are looking into other end markets that might allow a less stringent sorting protocol. We welcome any solutions you may have to for putting the final link in an otherwise functional chain.