Teaming up to reduce the environmental footprint of hospitals
An upcycling loop for used medical instruments
Single-use medical devices such as surgical instruments for orthopedic surgery are an indispensable part of modern healthcare. Traditionally, they are made of metal, but the possibility of resorting to polymers instead offers many advantages from an environmental standpoint (reduced weight, smaller manufacturing carbon footprint, etc).
What’s more, whatever the material they are made of, as they are discarded after use, these instruments generate a significant amount of waste. But this would all change if they could be recycled! Such is the objective of a new three-way partnership Solvay has joined, through which used instruments would be collected from hospitals and the polymer they are made of upcycled to make new objects.
80% smaller carbon footprint thanks to recycling
Solvay’s Ixef® polyarylamide (PARA) is a high-end specialty polymer used for applications that need to combine an aesthetic and smooth finish with other technical benefits such as tensile strength and dimensional stability – typically required for surgical instruments. Not only that, it’s recyclable!
That’s why we recently collaborated with two partners in a breakthrough initiative to improve the environmental footprint of hospitals and clinics: the recycling of valuable polymers in surgical instruments, proving that the medical safety provided by high-performance polymers in single-use surgical instruments can be reconciled with the need for greater sustainability and resource efficiency.
Additionally, this recycling loop project will serve to promote the replacement of metal with lightweight polymer designs, which will help hospitals reduce their time and cost for sterilization and disposal. And of course, thanks to mechanical recycling, discarded surgical instruments could become part of a circular ecosystem that prevents the loss of valuable material and reduces the consumption of fossil resources. These combined benefits will contribute to significantly reducing the environmental impact of these instruments; it is estimated that the carbon footprint of recycled Ixef® PARA would be 70% to 80% smaller than that of its virgin equivalent.
Upcycled into car parts and sports equipment
Solvay’s partners in this project are Ostium Group, a French startup that designs and manufactures instruments for orthopedic surgery, and Cosmolys, a Paris-based company specialized in the treatment of biomedical waste. This initiative initially targets the European market, but Ostium and Solvay have a common ambition to extend their partnership to the US market as well.
“This collaboration across the value chain brings together the best capabilities of each party: chemistry and material science knowledge for Solvay, innovation in product design and business models for Ostium, and medical waste management and recycling for Cosmolys,” sums up Claire Guerrero, Solvay Materials Marketing Manager. “Implementing such a partnership was key to developing a dedicated mechanical process that would allow us to deliver high-quality polymer feedstock for uses in other applications.”
Once implemented, the loop would function as follows: Ostium will supply hospitals with their innovative custom surgical kits made with Solvay’s Ixef® PARA polymer, Cosmolys will collect the decontaminated instruments after use, clean and recycle them, and send the material back to Solvay to be upcycled in new polymeric compounds.
“Ostium offers a new approach that profoundly improves logistical, economic and environmental efficiency across the value chain”, explains Vincent Retailleau, the co-founder of Ostium Group. “From the start of the project in 2016, we were firmly convinced that, despite all the benefits of single-use instruments, our solution could only find its finality in a complete circular economic model. That’s why we approached committed partners such as Solvay and Cosmolys to help us make this desire a reality.”
Due to regulations and constraints on the use of recycled materials in medical devices, we are aiming for open-loop solutions in which the recycled material would find a second life (without losing its high performance) in markets such as the automotive industry and sports & leisure equipment. The big advantage here is that recycled Ixef® PARA maintains excellent properties, with no loss in surface appearance compared with the virgin grade, so it can continue its lifecycle in high-end applications.