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Eco-Friendly Initiative Targets Continence Care Waste

Eco-Friendly Initiative Targets Continence Care Waste

In collaboration with Interwaste, Pacific Hygiene is trialling the recycling of used continence products in aged care facilities. This is a major step forward in progressing sustainability solutions in New Zealand because continence products are primarily non-biodegradable and significantly contribute to environmental pollution.

The trial is designed to explore the logistics of collection and disposal, focusing on the segregation of waste—which may include disposable and reusable variants—and its implications for customers.

The products are typically made from non-biodegradable materials like plastics and superabsorbent polymers, which complicates efforts for sustainable disposal. Even though reusable options have existed for some time, the convenience of disposable items means they comprise the bulk of continence waste.

In New Zealand, the disposal of used continence waste is regulated under specific guidelines that recognise it as clinical waste and require licensed waste disposal by companies like Interwaste. As part of this process, Interwaste uses specialised containers for safe collection, transportation and ultimate disposal, usually incineration.

The challenges of recycling continence waste products stem from materials used in manufacturing, like superabsorbent polymers, which require advanced technology for material separation and sanitary handling.

However, the potential benefits of recycling—including reduced reliance on raw materials and lower greenhouse gas emissions—as well as reducing the production of new materials (which often have a higher carbon footprint than recycling existing ones) present a compelling argument for recycling.

Recycling technologies need to address the technical and hygienic challenges of mixed materials and absorbents, with the aim of reclaiming plastics and components for reuse. Successful recycling means less reliance on new materials, which will result in lower greenhouse gas emissions and waste in landfills.

The Pacific Hygiene and Interwaste trial aims to quantify the volume and weight of the waste generated and evaluate the practicality of the facility's segregation efforts.

Key to the initiative is assessing the financial viability of investing in expensive recycling technology. As part of that, a number of select aged care facilities have been invited to participate in the trial at no cost to them over a period of 4-6 months—this may be extended.

The aged care facilities that participate in the trial will be provided with suitable containers for waste collection. The containers will be replaced on a scheduled basis and, after the initial phase, on an as-needed collection.

This process is designed to be fully compliant with NZS4304:2002 standards for healthcare waste management and leverages Interwaste's expertise in the field. Aged care facilities interested in joining the trial will have a site visit to finalise logistical arrangements—the first critical step towards realising the potential of recycling and how it can reduce the environmental impact of continence care products.