Progress update (August 2021)
Successful introduction of medical sharps containers and inner safety shields manufactured from 100% recycled polypropylene
The aim of this project is to overcome a lack of market confidence, whereby many manufacturers are concerned about the risk of insufficient long-term recycled material availability, and inconsistent performance. Funded by the Welsh Government, we have been working in collaboration with partner organisations to demonstrate the successful utilisation of 100% recycled content for the manufacture of medical sharps containers.
The project has focussed on the following products, manufactured by Frontier Plastics Ltd – part of the Vernacare Group – at their site in South Wales:
- A range of black sharps containers, 0.2 litres to 1 litre in volume, for the harm reduction market; and
- inner safety shields for 2, 3, 4 and 7 litre yellow Sharpsafe containers.
All sharps containers and inner safety shields are manufactured from injection moulded polypropylene. High impact strength, and resistance to needle penetration, are critical mechanical properties for any recycled polymer being proposed for this application.
Black sharps containers for the harm reduction market
Following an extensive search of available recycled polypropylene (rPP) materials, we identified a number of suitable grades for further investigation. This included source segregated post-consumer rPP from various sources. Sample pieces were injection moulded and tested to benchmark the material against the current virgin resin and the supplier’s Technical Data Sheet.
The testing identified two rPP’s from post-consumer sources that closely matched the characteristics of the virgin resin. Product moulding trials were subsequently carried out using 100% rPP, with both materials successfully passing Frontier Plastics Ltd’s rigorous internal quality control testing standards. Further batches of rPP were secured and tested to confirm batch-to-batch consistency and conformance with all specifications.
Having successfully demonstrated the product’s suitability and compliance with relevant regulatory standards, Frontier Plastics Ltd will shortly commence full production of their black sharps container range using the proven rPP at 100%.
The rPP has been sourced from a Wales-based supplier, which has the added benefit of reduced transport miles and a significantly shorter supply chain. This is a key consideration for manufacturers, which has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period, many lengthy international supply chains have been severely compromised by global restrictions to capacity and movement.
Inner safety shields for yellow sharps containers
We are pleased to report that the development work for inner safety shields for 2, 3, 4 and 7 litre yellow Sharpsafe containers has also been successful. Since November 2020, Sharpsafe safety shields have been manufactured from 100% rPP rather than virgin resin.
In addition to satisfactory mechanical performance, a key performance metric for the safety shields was that they must be manufactured from a natural-coloured, translucent material, through which the fill level and contents of the sharps container could be safely assessed by the end user.
Following an extensive search of available rPP materials, we identified four suitable candidates for further investigation, including post-consumer and post-industrial rPPs from the packaging, medical, and industrial filtration sectors. Technical data relating to the materials was secured from suppliers, and test pieces were injection moulded to benchmark the material against the supplier’s specification, and for comparison with the virgin resin.
The full range of safety shields were successfully moulded using two rPP’s sourced from the packaging and industrial filtration sectors, and they passed all internal mechanical testing. However, they failed to meet the specification for translucency.
A third rPP from a post-consumer medical source was a particularly attractive option and demonstrated all of the required performance characteristics. Once moulded, it produced products that were indistinguishable from those manufactured from virgin resin. Unfortunately, due to the lack of reliable and consistent volumes, this otherwise-ideal material had to be discounted for this particular application.
A fourth source of rPP from the medical sector successfully passed both the mechanical and optical translucency quality control testing at 100% recycled content. Further batches of rPP were subsequently tested and demonstrated the required batch-to-batch consistency and conformance with specification. With the quality proven, and long-term availability currently stable, Frontier Plastics Ltd entered full production of 100% rPP safety shields during the latter part of 2020, at no extra cost to the business. This will avoid the use of approximately 69 tonnes of virgin material per annum.
The introduction of 100% recycled content into both the black and yellow sharps container ranges represents the successful completion of the original development phases of this demonstration project. The identified rPP materials have shown promise for other applications within Frontier Plastics Ltd’s sharps container ranges, and further work is currently being carried out.
“We plan to introduce recycled materials further across the range of sharps containers, with the aim of introducing a new range of sharps containers that will include a high percentage of recycled content.”
John Davies, Global Category Director, Frontier Plastics Ltd