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Province wide working group kick-started to explore PPE recycling

Single-use PPE focuses on quality care in the short term, but creates challenges to the long-term health and sustainability of our communities.

While single-use PPE can be vital to preventing the spread of deadly infection, and has been particularly important to keep health-care staff, patients and visitors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are opportunities for much of this waste to be safely diverted and reprocessed into other long-term plastic goods (i.e., automotive parts and construction materials).

The pandemic has generated high amounts of PPE waste due to a lack of efficient PPE recycling systems. Most of the disposable PPE used in the health-care system is made from petroleum-based polymers, such as polypropylene, which are traditionally difficult to recycle and have a very low value on the open market. This said, much work has been done to advance the recyclability of these materials in the last year. 

In early 2021, some small PPE recycling pilot projects were undertaken at two Urgent and Primary Care Centres (UPCC) and two health-care sites in the Lower Mainland. In order to advance a province-wide approach, the Lower Mainland health organizations (LMHOs) have partnered with the Health Sector Pandemic PPE Recycling Working Group (with representation from the Ministry of Health, Provincial Health Services Authority and health authority specialists in sustainability, logistics and waste management), to find a solution that might give new life to PPE used in our facilities. 

This collaborative PPE working group, along with the recycling company involved with the earlier pilots, Vitacore Industries Inc., are exploring opportunities to pilot PPE recycling in an acute-care setting. Members of this working group from the LMHOs are working with Support Services Team to assess how the LMHOs might participate in this innovative project.

The goal of the PPE recycling pilot is to demonstrate that this type of program is sustainable, the health-care system can make a greater contribution to the circular economy, and used PPE is a valuable feedstock for reprocessing into long-term plastic products that are not single use.

Many individual sites across B.C. are interested in recycling their used PPE and the pilots are being fast-tracked as quickly as possible. With that in mind, the recycling partner, Vitacore, has asked that the provincial working group be the main point of contact for B.C. health-care facilities. 

If you would like more information about the working group, or, have a story to share about PPE recycling in your workplace, please contact Marianne Dawson, Sustainability Consultant, Energy & Environmental Sustainability Team, at marianne.dawson@vch.ca​. ​