PVC in IV bags, tubing and masks – it can be recycled!

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IV bags, oxygen  tubing and facemasks … it’s estimated that Australia uses 2500 tonnes of PVC in medical products each year and an estimated 5O million IV bags go to landfill. When PVC breaks down it releases harmful chemicals that can contaminate soil and groundwater and when incinerated it releases dangerous dioxins into the atmosphere.

Libby Muir (right), Environmental Health Officer for the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victoria, offers a less dangerous alternative. See what you can do at your hospital to ensure a safer future.

PVC recycling offers a solution and the PVC Recycling in Hospitals Program, which originated in Melbourne, provides health professionals and hospitals support and resources. The program estimates that a 300-bed hospital can recycle 2.5 tonnes of PVC every year. Every tonne of PVC recycled potentially replaces the manufacture of about one tonne of new PVC, reducing waste and saving precious resources.

There are 41 Victorian hospitals in the program – University Hospital Geelong is one. The hospital has recently completed a pilot trial which included the coronary care unit, theatre and RAPU. As part of  the program, the health service has PVC products, including IV bags, oxygen tubing and facemasks, collected for free, reducing its landfill and the cost of waste management.

Running a pilot allowed clinical and support staff to work through some logistical issues. For instance they discovered they needed bin lids with good signage to stop contamination and that one size bin doesn’t fit everywhere, so they need a variety of bins.

Another benefit of the pilot was the increase in conversation about other  recycling options.

Throughout the pilot and as the program expands, the most important thing for staff to remember is ‘If in doubt, throw it out’, as contamination of the PVC stream can lead to whole batches of PVC being wasted.

Easy steps to get your PVC recycling started:

  • Find colleagues interested in recycling waste and willing to take action in your unit or ward and set up a green team.
  • Approach your manager (and the green team) to build a plan – including staff awareness.
  • Identify all the products you can recover and the hospital departments you need to talk to -there may be something already in place.
  • Visit the Vinyl Council’s PVC recycling website for info and ideas and share the videos with your green team and NUM.
  • Once you’ve started, keep records of how much PVC is being segregated. Inspect regularly (if possible, have a green team roster).
  • Work on the easy wins and share them with colleagues.
  • Make it easy to do the right thing­ – put bins in easy reach.
  • Make it fun!

Find out more about the PVC recycling program on the Vinyl Council Australia website.

Contact Libby at lmuir@anmfvic.asn.au or (03) 9275 9333.

Let us know if you have a PVC recycling scheme at your hospital – if you need support, contact Libby in Victoria or Janet Roden at NSWNMA on (02) 8595 1234.

This originally appeared in OTR (On the Record) by ANMF Vic in November 2016.

Previously on Nurse Uncut:

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