Surgical waste reprocessing: Injection molding using recycled blue wrapping paper from the operating room

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Hospitals in the Netherlands generate approximately 1.3 million kg of waste from the polypropylene (PP) wrapping paper (WP) used to wrap surgical instruments each year. The aim of this study was to develop a method to recycle WP waste into new medical devices.

WP was recovered from Maasstad Hospital, Netherlands. The WP was melted into bars, granulated, and mixed with virgin material at different ratios and temperatures. Dog bones were injection-molded from volume (v.%) virgin, mixed (%R), and recycled (100%R) granulate, and a tensile testing machine was used to compare the material properties before and after ten disinfection cycles at the sterilization department. Then, 25 instrument openers were made from the 50%R material and circulated for four weeks.

The data indicated no significant differences in the mechanical properties at different melting temperatures. For dog bones made from the 100%R, 50%R, and virgin granulate, the Young's moduli were 1021 (SD13), 879 (SD13), and 795 (SD14) MPa, and the strains were 8%, 12%, and 14%. Ten disinfection cycles did not significantly change the material properties. After one month, the openers did not show any deterioration or damage other than surface scratches.

The results indicated that the initial WP melting temperature did not influence the mechanical properties. Although devices could be produced directly from the recycled WP granulate, increasing the recycled granulate in the mix ratio increased the strength and brittleness.

It is feasible to recycle WP waste into a high-quality raw material for the injection molding of medical devices without using additives. This would allow hospitals to become more compliant with the circular economy enabling economically viable and circular processes that positively contribute to cleaner technical processes, sustainable products, and the reduction of medical waste.