South African Hospital recycling programme turns waste into wealth

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A brilliant South African initiative is turning plastic waste into soles for school shoes.


Marilyn Monroe once said: “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world”. Thanks to a ground-breaking hospital recycling project which was initiated by the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA) in 2010, non-hazardous intravenous infusion (IV) drip bags and tubing made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are now being recycled into soles for school shoes.

“We started researching the concept of “practicing green health” in 2010, but our proposals and calls to recycle waste from hospitals were met with lukewarm enthusiasm at the time. Fortunately, a lot of research on this topic has taken place locally and internationally since then, with numerous examples and case studies proving that it is indeed possible and economically viable for hospitals to adopt this approach,” says Delanie Bezuidenhout, CEO of the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA).

Today, recycling non-hazardous medical products is being described as being a pioneering and collaborative move for the healthcare industry. Globally, PVC recycling programmes are changing the way hospitals think about reducing both their costs and their impact on the environment.

“More than 40% of all plastic-based disposable medical devices used in hospitals are made from high quality PVC which are highly recyclable. By collecting and reprocessing products such as IV bags, oxygen masks and tubing, a minimum of 2 500 tonnes of locally recyclable material is diverted from our country’s landfills,” Delanie says.

South Africa currently has 33 PVC recyclers who recycle rigid and flexible PVC. Between them, they recycled more than 17 000 tonnes of PVC in 2016 into various items, such as soles for school shoes, gumboots and traffic cones.

One of the first fruits of SAVA’s medical waste recycling drive was seen in Johannesburg recently, when roughly 1 000 school shoes were handed over to learners of the Masakhane Tswelopele Primary School in Zandspruit by Executive Mayor, Councillor Herman Mashaba and the City of Johannesburg.

This donation was made possible thanks to Adcock Ingram Critical Care, Netcare and the City of Johannesburg, who have begun dealing with their uncontaminated healthcare waste in a way that creates functional new products, including school shoes for disadvantaged children.

“Thanks to funding we received from Adcock Ingram Critical Care, SAVA was able to put research into practice. We spent several hours providing unit managers, head of departments, cleaning staff, nursing staff and waste management staff with training into separating and recycling non-hazardous PVC waste with PowerPoint presentations, practical demonstrations, video’s as well as in-depth and question and answer sessions.

Conveniently located blue coloured bins were set up specifically for the purpose of segregating uncontaminated used PVC drip bags and the PVC waste material was collected by recyclers who then sold it to a company that uses this high grade and quality PVC plastic to make soles for shoes.

“We are very excited to see that the success of PVC recycling programmes are changing the way hospitals think about reducing both their costs and their impact on the environment. South Africa is following the lead of countries like Australia by taking a tough approach on plastics in the belief that this could create jobs in recycling, engineering and research.

The support we are now receiving from the medical fraternity makes it clear that hospitals and clinics are rethinking the way in which they deal with healthcare waste. They are starting to realise that recycling their non-hazardous PVC waste not only has a positive impact on curbing the costs of waste management, but it also increases their own awareness about conducting their day-to-day business in a way that is environmentally responsible and sustainable,” Delanie concludes.

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Brent Lindeque is the founder and man in charge at Good Things Guy. Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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