Material Replacements for Plastic in the Healthcare Sector

Material Replacements for Plastic in the Healthcare Sector
2 March 2023

Material Replacements for Plastic in the Healthcare Sector

The UK is the second largest producer of healthcare waste in Europe, with the NHS alone in the UK producing 2.5k tonnes of plastic waste per day. While plastic was created to be a material that is easy to recycle and recover, in the healthcare industry, evidence shows plastic is far from eco-conscious. 

42% of all plastic in Europe is incinerated, and this is because it is so often contaminated and classed as clinical waste that needs to be burned. But research also reveals that up to 30% of hazardous waste could actually not be contaminated at all and could go into normal recycling streams.  

How can we reduce the vast amount of plastic going to landfill every day? Here are some cutting-edge materials and inventions that have been created to manage the levels of plastic waste coming out of our healthcare facilities.

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Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic in Healthcare

There are seven different types of plastic defined by their resin ID code, but only Types 1, 2, 4, and 5 are generally recyclable. Even so, contamination with blood or other body fluids or chemicals used in healthcare can mean these recyclable types need to be incinerated anyway. 

Thankfully due to a push for healthcare industry businesses to go after sustainability incentives, engineers and scientists are putting more and more time into finding environmentally friendly alternatives.

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Medical-Grade Paper

Plastic film and blister packs used for packaging sterile items such as dressings, bandages, and surgical tools are some of the most prevalent plastic waste items found in healthcare, and these are commonly non-recyclable. 

Medical-grade paper is a sustainable alternative that can withstand sterilisation via steam, ethylene oxide, irradiation sterilisation, and formaldehyde methods.

Generally, it is made from 100% cellulose fibres, so it won’t break down and tear as normal paper would going through these processes. But medical-grade paper can be recycled along with paper in normal paper recycling streams. 

Swapping to wound dressings wrapped in medical-grade paper is one way to significantly cut down on plastic waste in care facilities and hospitals. First aid kits can be made more sustainable by using products like this, too, so that businesses of all kinds can meet their sustainability KPIs more easily.

Our Eco First Aid Kit uses 94% less plastic because we include items wrapped in medical-grade paper. It is also contained in a box made from a compound of compressed wood and recycled plastic composite, all 100% recycled and recyclable.

Reduce and Reuse Items

woman in homecare hospital bed with banana and metal cutlery

Sustainable solutions for plastic use in healthcare don’t always involve swapping out plastic items for others. One of the largest steps establishments can take towards reducing plastic consumption starts with reducing the use of plastic items.

Great Ormond Street Hospital launched the ‘Gloves Are Off’ campaign to encourage better hand hygiene in it’s facilities and reduce the use of gloves when not needed. The campaign resulted in a reduction of 4.3 million gloves used and 21 tonnes less waste, with no negative effects at all.

Increasing the number of reusable first aid and healthcare items in facilities like hospitals, care homes, and GP surgeries is virtually guaranteed to result in less plastic waste. The University Clinical Hospital Virgen de la Arrixaca in Spain was moved to start using reusable hospital gowns during the Covid-19 pandemic due to shortages of disposable ones, which are now in permanent use thanks to their positive economic and ecological impact. 

There are also opportunities for facilities to move away from disposable cutlery, which is often made from polystyrene and not always recyclable.


AggiePol is a natural polycarbonate platform created by Teysha Technologies, which the company says could replace the traditional use of plastic in medical care.  

A type of biodegradable plastic made from sustainable feedstocks, AggiePol is an eco-friendly alternative to the usual polymers made from natural building blocks known as monomers and co-monomers.

Traditional polymers are also created using hydrocarbon-based petrochemicals, creating various pollutants during manufacturing. AggiePol is created using agricultural waste products and starches, further feeding into the circular economy.

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Storage of medical supplies must meet certain requirements, particularly if the contents must be sterilised. The EnviroPouch was created by dentists David and James Stoddard as another alternative to the sterilisation pouch, this time for dental surgery. The invention is a pouch made of tightly woven fabric that can be used to cover and protect sterilised dental instruments. The creators of EnviroPouch claim one can eliminate the need for up to 200 plastic pouches, making it an excellent method of reducing plastic waste in healthcare settings.

EnviroPouch is registered with the FDA as having met strict standards for sanitisation set out by the CDC. In fact, EnviroPouch could even be more effective than standard plastic pouches, as it is made to be a thicker barrier that resists puncture. The same cannot always be said for plastic film pouches.

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