Replacing waste streams in the healthcare industry by applied technology : Developing technology for a circular economy

University essay from Blekinge Tekniska Högskola/Institutionen för maskinteknik; Blekinge Tekniska Högskola/Institutionen för maskinteknik

Abstract: Background Waste has been around since humans started to create products. Today, it is a growing problem in the world; humans keep producing waste at a faster pace than we can handle. The world is becoming more conscious of our actions, and new solutions to manage and utilize the waste are desired. Medical waste lacks a global definition, which results in a lack of standardization for medical waste management. The rapid development of medical science and technology has led to increased use of medical consumables. Single-use gloves are the most commonly used consumable within healthcare. They are not recycled due to fear of contamination, which results in a big load on the environment by not preserving the value of the material. Objectives The objectives with the research have been to understand the waste industry and identify where waste streams have the opportunity to be replaced with circular systems through new technology. From the findings, design and propose a new technology that fits into a circular economy. Method Design Research Methodology and MSPI Innovation process worked as frameworks for the design process for the researchers during the thesis work. Inspiration from company visits, interviews, job shadowing, and literature research initiated the project and was used to clarify the problem. Prototypes, testing, and literature research were used to validate the design progress and followed up by lab experiments and mechanical design of a fully circular system. Results Through tests and experiments, a circular system for single-use protection gloves was designed. The proposed technology would eliminate the need for raw material extraction, manufacturing, and transportation. The system is based on making protection gloves from Polyvinyl Alcohol. Due to the unique properties of the material, it is possible to dissolve the gloves in water, sterilize them and remanufacture them into new gloves. The gloves proved to have similar mechanical properties to the current options on the market. The system includes many elements from the manufacturing process of nitrile rubber and latex gloves, but the introduction of cleaning and sterilization steps will question the main reason consumable protection gloves are used in the first place, to ensure sterility. Conclusion Optimizing, automating, and implementing this system will make the healthcare industry more environmentally friendly. Introducing a system to remanufacture and sterilize single-use gloves is a statement to prove the possibility to replace linear life cycles with circular ones, by questioning the reasons behind unsustainable behavior and solving those problems. Contaminated waste is incinerated today. Some argue that energy recovery classifies as recycling, but this system will focus on preserving the value of the material by reusing it in multiple cycles. Similar work will be necessary to keep up with the increased production of waste. Circular systems may enable humans to fulfill their needs with a significantly decreased environmental load. Before implementing this solution in the healthcare industry, more research must be carried out. However, the innovation of an in-house system and a more direct approach to manufacture – recycle – reuse, has presented to create new value of waste and further technological development to enhance the waste management and recycling industry.

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