IV Bag Recycling Pilot Demonstrates Proof of Concept

The first such program in a US hospital, facilitated by medical device OEM Baxter, diverted more than six tons of waste PVC-based IV bags from landfill.

Norbert Sparrow

December 15, 2023

2 Min Read
IV bag in OR
Owen Franken/Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Unlike syringes, needles, and some other medical devices, IV bags typically end up in landfill as standard practice
  • IV bags are recycled into floor mats and protective edging
  • Having demonstrated proof of concept, Baxter is expanding pilot to determine scalability

In our look at five medtech trends to watch in 2024, reporter Joe Darrah put sustainability at the top of his list. Specifically, Len Czuba, who heads a medical device development consultancy, told Darrah that “we will see the medtech industry be more focused on and placing more effort into sustainability, recyclability, reuse, and cleaning up the environment in 2024.” Of course, those efforts are already underway, and we learned this week of the successful outcome of one such initiative involving waste intravenous (IV) bags.

Medical device OEM Baxter announced yesterday, Dec. 14, on its website that it had completed the first phase of the IV bag recycling pilot program in conjunction with Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. They were able to divert more than six tons of PVC-based IV bags from landfill for recycling. It’s the first program of its kind in the United States, according to Baxter.

Standard practice for non-hazardous IV bag removal includes draining residual fluid and disposing of it as waste that ultimately ends up in a landfill. Through this pilot program, stakeholders from several Northwestern Memorial Hospital departments — including nursing, supply chain, and environmental services — were engaged to help develop a new process that enables the incorporation of material separation for recycling into nursing workflow while also managing space constraints common to hospital settings, said the press release from Baxter. With the support of third-party logistics and recycling partners, the PVC-based IV bags ultimately are recycled into products such as industrial floor mats and protective edging for docks and landscaping.

“What started as a single-unit pilot is now standard practice across several of our inpatient units within Northwestern Memorial Hospital and has resulted in the recycling of more than 170,000 IV bags,” said Jeff Good, Northwestern Medicine’s first chief sustainability executive and vice president of operations. “What started as a single-unit pilot is now standard practice across several of our inpatient units within Northwestern. Our health system understands the environmental importance of this pilot program and we are dedicated to creating initiatives that support our overarching sustainability goals to reduce our carbon footprint and eliminate unnecessary waste.”

Having established proof of concept with the pilot program, Northwestern Medicine said it will continue to implement the program and will explore expanding it throughout the health system. Meanwhile, Baxter is seeking to recruit other participants in the Chicago area to further validate the process and demonstrate its economic feasibility. A long-term goal is to implement similar programs in healthcare establishments across the country.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 20 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree. Reach him at [email protected].


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