Envetec Prepares Regulated Medical Waste to be Made into Circular Plastics

Historically, regulated medical waste has been managed through incineration or thermal sterilization processes like autoclaving, then landfilled after thermal treatment. Cleantech company Envetec has developed an alternative to these traditional treatment and disposal methods that it says are cheaper, cleaner, and can convert biohazardous materials into feedstock suitable for plastic recycling.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

May 29, 2024

4 Min Read
Courtesy of Envetec

Historically, regulated medical waste has been managed through incineration or thermal sterilization processes like autoclaving, then landfilled after thermal treatment But these decades-old technologies are energy- and carbon-intensive, with even more emissions associated with waste transport. And in the end, valuable plastics that reach the end of their short life are lost as trash.

Cleantech company Envetec developed an alternative to these traditional treatment and disposal methods that it says are cheaper, cleaner, and can convert biohazardous materials into feedstock suitable for plastic recycling. Branded as GENERATIONS, the equipment is installed at the generators’ site; one instrument can process over one million pounds of regulated medical waste a year if it runs continuously, which it’s engineered to do.

“Some think if you incinerate waste, you have very little left, but about 20 percent is ash that has to be landfilled.  Autoclave has a high water and energy use, and the heat damages the polymers,” says Malcolm Bell, CEO and chair of Envetec Sustainable Technologies.

“So, there are no methods able to recycle this medical waste at scale in the U.S. Yet 85 to 90 percent of it is high quality, high-value single-use polymers,” Bell says.

Envetec’s nonthermal treatment uses a biodegradable chemical to disinfect and shred blood tubes, petri dishes, personal protective equipment, sharps containers, and other medical equipment, leaving behind a noninfectious, municipal solid waste-grade stream with high polymer content that can be separated by plastic type, extruded, pelletized, and made into new products.

Bell says the system is “cost-neutral,” and tests show it reduces CO2 emissions by 90 percent and water consumption by 80 percent over autoclaving.

The first clients are hospitals, several large global pharmaceutical companies, dairy manufacturers, and medical and veterinary diagnostic labs that test for pathogens and have biohazardous or microbiological waste.

A common denominator across sectors says Sunny Uberoi, Envetec head of communications, is that besides wanting a cheaper, cleaner waste management option, these high-waste generators are looking to contribute to a circular economy. And they are aiming to reduce their Scope 3 emissions, which typically account for most of a business’ carbon footprint.

With the ability to deal with the waste safely on site they can check off the Scope 3 box. Now Envetec is working to form collaborations with recyclers so clients can check the circularity box too and bring a difficult waste stream back into the economy fully sanitized and ready for reuse.

The technology has achieved the highest international standard level for biohazardous waste, showing it kills all spores in a given validation sample in any health care or pharmaceutical setting.

During COVID, Northwell Health, New York’s largest hospital, was inundated with biohazardous waste and became the epicenter for testing, which sparked the administration’s interest in finding a new solution. The hospital went on to deploy GENERATIONS at its central lab, which manages 20,000 patient samples a day, culminating in over 500,000 pounds of regulated hospital waste a year.

Northwell expects to decrease its waste-related Scope 3 emissions by as much as 90 percent with the introduction of this new technology. At the same time the New York medical system is aiming to increase recycling of its total waste by 25 percent by 2027.

“I prefer to look at this issue as an obligation we believe we have as a leader in health care. We feel it is our responsibility to address our impacts on the climate,” says Donna Drummond, Northwell’s senior vice president, chief expense officer, and chief sustainability officer.

The best chance for true impact when aiming high is to be ready to make bold moves.

“I think the biggest challenge we have in this space is the fact that we are, in a lot of ways, a first mover. We have to be willing to explore fresh approaches and be open to ideas that haven’t been tried before. And now we have the opportunity to rethink our approach to treating regulated medical waste by exploring full circularity,” Drummond says.

The technology is in place; the recycling piece is likely soon to come. The units have undergone testing at several processing facilities and have proven to work within their systems. The expectation is to ink contracts by the summer of 2024 with a few recyclers who will separate, extrude, and pelletize materials.

What’s got their interest, Bell says, is they can easily recycle a high-value stream that was never within their reach before, and they would save processing steps. Recovered plastics will come to recyclers already shredded, disinfected, and washed. Materials will include polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high- and low- density polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE), polypropylene (PP), and polystyrene (PS) among polymers that are in demand, especially among brands and CPGs looking to incorporate recycled feedstock into their packaging.

So far, in Europe one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies is sending their waste, processed with GENERATIONS, to a recycler. Envetec’s ultimate plan is to expand this cross-collaboration model across that continent and the U.S.

“Circularity takes a long time and involves bringing in many partners across the supply chain,” Uberoi says.

“But once a model is in place, it is reproducible. And we have the model.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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