Map your plastic composition

In November of 2016, Aarhus University Hospital carried out a sample survey. Nine departments were asked to sort out clean plastic from their waste disposal for 48 hours.  The clean plastic was now weighed and analysed. All in all, 90 kg of plastic, equivalent to 500 kg of daily waste, was analysed. The results of the sampling corresponded more or less with previous, and larger, surveys conducted at Stanford Hospitals and Clinics from 2013, as well as a smaller Dutch survey.

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Plastic types found during mapping

Sampling showed that large amounts of clean plastic packaging could be collected relatively easily, from operation theatres, and other areas with a controlled environment – examples being the hospital pharmacy or intensive care unit preparation. However, the survey also illuminated the difficulties of maintaining focus on plastic sorting in hospital areas with many mobile patients and visitors like the emergency reception.


A Minimum of 40 % of plastics were not identifiable

The survey sample showed that, at least, 40 % (the blue part of the pie chart on below) of plastic packaging could not be identified (unknown plastic) Partly because plastic packaging is often unmarked, making it impossible to see what it consists of, but also because a lot of plastic is made from laminates, which are often different plastic types melted together to attain certain properties. These can be properties that contribute to maintaining the sterility of the packaged product. Laminates cannot be recycled mechanically, but current experimentation with other forms of recycling are underway. However, the technology is currently unavailable for commercial use.

About 25 % of plastic packaging consists of LDPE

About 25 % of clean plastic packaging is LDPE (the orange part of the pie chart  below). This is positive, since LDPE is reusable. LDPE is, among other things, found as transport packaging around pallets and as the plastic layer in many sterile packages. Transport packaging, on pallets, is also easily collectible, which is something that already often occurs.

Plastic packaging from hospitals comprises of many plastic sorts

During the survey from AUH, 16 different polymers and combinations of polymers were discovered. The large number of plastic types, as well as the large of combinations, mean that large scale loads of plastic packaging for recycling are made impossible.

Different plastics contain different chemical compositions and melting points. This makes it difficult to recycle plastic types together due to quality losses in the plastics properties. One plastic package can both comprise of one or more plastic types, as well as different additives, an example being UV protection, softeners and colouring.