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Vaccination in health care

“We show it’s possible to use recycled materials in healthcare”

Around a fifth of all climate-impacting emissions from the public sector come from healthcare. Measures implemented by regions in Sweden: Change the use of consumables and make greater use of renewable, recycled, or circular materials. Several projects are now being carried out to realise this ambition and to show more producers that it is possible to switch to recycled materials. 

“The regions have been willing for a long time; as far back as fifteen years ago, what was then the Stockholm County Council tried to set requirements for recycled materials in procurement, but the technology did not exist at that time,” says Benny Lyvén, Research and Business Developer at RISE.  

Christina Jönsson, Head of the Methodology, Textiles and Medical Technology department at RISE adds: 

“But the pandemic changed something. On the one hand, there is a desire to restart the economy in a more sustainable way, and this also drives development in healthcare. But something even clearer is that we all now understand that materials are not infinite and are not always available. This has increased the interest in making better use of recycled material streams.” 

Hygiene products and packaging are faster 

A feasible timetable for getting a fully circular product or by-product into use is about four years, where the technical solution is developed and tested for two years, and any regulatory processes are handled in the subsequent two years. Hygiene products and packaging can go faster. Products made of bioplastics, for example, are already available in healthcare today. 

“Packaging accounts for the largest volumes,” says Lyvén. “Today, work is being done in processes in which many millions have been invested. But there are collaborations and initiatives underway to achieve change. If small and agile companies seeking to make rapid change can find ways to do so, then the large industries will too.” 

Shortages during the pandemic the starting point 

Two examples of current efforts to expand the use of recycled materials in medical technology production stem from shortages during the pandemic. One involves using recycled plastic as the mid-layer in face masks – a scarce commodity during the pandemic that is still widely used in healthcare. The second concerns consumables for respirators. 

“For obvious reasons, this is a highly regulated industry,” says Lyvén. “It also makes producers worried about switching to new materials.”  

Something that in another industry would require minor changes to the material flow can result in the need for new permits, withdrawn products, and high costs. Therefore, RISE is working to show that transition is possible both with a relatively easy application – face masks that are mainly used by healthy people – and a more difficult one, parts for respirators. 

“The industry is willing, and also recognises that this is urgent, which results in considerable frustration when things do not progress faster,” says Jönsson. “Through our work and partnerships, we want to expose the gaps in ecosystems. After all, having the technical solutions is not enough. We work with material producers, recycling companies, and sorting plants. In this way, we can identify the material flows and see how they need to change.” 

There is a lot of pressure from consumers

High demand for medical products with no environmental impact 

Jönsson sees similar challenges and pressures in her work in the textile industry. Today, some things are recycled, but because the arguments for doing so are so strong and since there are sufficiently clean and recurring amounts available owing to the right solutions in place, a lot can happen if you get the entire chain involved in the change.  

“There is a lot of pressure from consumers,” says Lyvén. “I meet patient groups who want to be able to use their medical products without feeling that they have a major environmental impact. At the same time, we know that if Sweden invests in a more redundant and robust supply system for healthcare, it can allow companies with new solutions to establish themselves and expand. There really are more arguments for achieving this change than solely the environmental arguments.” 

Broad expertise in one place 

RISE has brought together expertise in individual materials, production, system change, and regulations. This makes it possible to assemble high-quality expert teams. The knowledge of verification and testing allows the work to be followed until final verification. 

“That’s what we want to achieve,” says Jönsson. “Patient safety should not and cannot be compromised, but we must make it clear how to change production methods and we must know what needs to be achieved for the end product to work.” 

Different ways to make healthcare more circular 

Different technologies are relevant for different materials. In some contexts, it involves changing what is consumed, moving from disposable to reusable products. In most cases, it is the production that needs to be adapted. To achieve more circular flows, recycling is usually required in medical technology manufacturing. In addition, there are chemical, thermal, and mechanical technologies for recycling. In many cases, sorting needs to be improved to achieve sufficiently clean flows of recycled material.  

Christina Jönsson

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Christina Jönsson


+46 70 780 60 98

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Benny Lyvén

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Benny Lyvén

Forsknings och affärsutvecklare TF chef biologisk funktion

+46 10 516 52 68

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