Many medical devices that have only been approved by the manufacturer for a single use contain plastics, for example electrophysiology catheters (cardiac catheters). A research team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology Umsicht on behalf of the medical remanufacturing company Vanguard AG investigated the positive environmental impacts when these are not disposed of but restored using certified processes. At the round table of the AMDR (Association of Medical Device Reprocessors) on March 11, 2021, co-author Anna Schulte explains the details of the recently published study.

Positive effects for the environment

Plastics have very good properties, are often long-lasting materials and are used in all possible areas – from packaging to the construction industry to medicine. If plastic products are circulated for as long as possible, the consumption of resources is reduced and the climate is protected.

A circular economy should make it possible to extract fewer fossil resources, minimize waste products and emissions, design products intelligently for their recycling and thus reduce end-of-life losses. In order to show the environmental effects of the manufacture of products and materials, Fraunhofer Umsicht prepares life cycle assessments for customers from various industries. In the recently published study on behalf of Vanguard AGThe research team compared the new production of an electrophysiology catheter (heart catheter) with a restored catheter – by means of so-called medical remanufacturing – in particular with regard to their impact on global warming and their consumption of resources. The result: Medical remanufacturing reduces the CO2 footprint by over 50 percent and resource consumption by over 28 percent. The study is in the scientific journal “Sustainability” published.

The study also shows that the positive effects increase with the number of reprocessing cycles. In a model over several life cycles, Fraunhofer Umsicht was able to estimate that approx. 450 t CO2 equivalent could be saved in Germany every year.

Remanufacturing has an advantage over recycling

The important advantage of remanufacturing is that, unlike recycling, the value of a product is retained – both economically and ecologically. After its use, the product is recycled to its highest possible value and benefit, whereas with recycling only the value of the material is retained. For example, recycled plastic has a different quality. Remanufacturing is about preparing the product in such a way that it has the same qualities as a newly manufactured product. This is particularly relevant for plastics in the medical field, since high-performance polymers are often used in medical products, the properties of which cannot be further taken into account in municipal recycling. An important process step here is ensuring product safety, among other things.

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English translation courtesy of AMDR