Vernacare are market leading suppliers of medical consumables to healthcare providers in the UK and internationally. They specialise in manufacturing sharps containers, infection prevention products and harm reduction solutions and developed the world’s first purpose-manufactured contaminated sharps waste disposal units – their Sharpsafe® product range.
Funded by the Welsh Government, WRAP Cymru promote and encourage sustainable resource use through product design, waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and reprocessing of waste materials. They support manufacturers to incorporate recycled content in their products and extend their useful lifetime through capital investment via the £6.5million Circular Economy Fund.
The collaboration between Vernacare, ASTUTE 2020+ and WRAP Cymru aimed to increase the amount of recycled content in the Sharpsafe® range traditionally made using virgin plastic. To achieve this objective, the team needed to identify a suitable source of recycled material, assess its properties and possible up-rating, and determine its suitability for complete or partial replacement of virgin material.
Sharpsafe® products are required to pass two critical tests: to resist penetration and to survive a drop test to -18°C (such as may occur during refrigerated transport to incineration). These require a combination of hardness and low-temperature impact resistance, properties which are often difficult to reconcile since an increase in one of those properties generally results in a reduction of the other.
The demonstration project needed to prove the viability of incorporating post-industrial recycled materials without compromising product quality.
To achieve this, the team were required to:
- Identify one or more sources of recycled copolymer polypropylene providing a clean, consistent and reliable supply in sufficient volume,
- Test the suitability of the material for Sharpsafe® manufacture by a combination of lab tests and production trials,
- Examine methods for up-rating material properties as required,
- Assess the practical implications for commercial production of incorporating recycled material.
Altogether, 29 material blends were tested to identify the best option with suitable properties. ASTUTE 2020+ conducted experimental trials to simulate performance and the Vernacare team completed numerous manufacturing trials. These resulted in the identification of two blends that met the company’s rigorous and comprehensive testing standards, ensuring that product quality wasn’t compromised by the introduction of the recycled material.
WRAP Cymru assisted Vernacare in sourcing a reliable supplier that could consistently provide the volume of recycled materials needed for their manufacturing operations.
Simulation of 13L bin lid
As a direct result of the findings of this project, Vernacare’s range of sharps containers now includes up to 20% recycled materials. They have also introduced 100% recycled materials into their accessories range and product features.
Having demonstrated the feasibility of incorporating recyclate into production through the collaboration, Vernacare successfully applied for funding through the Circular Economy Fund – a Welsh Government initiative directed by WRAP Cymru – to invest in new material handling systems and quality control test & validation equipment.
Vernacare matched the funding provided by WRAP Cymru helping to further their progress towards a circular economy model and create a more sustainable future for safe infection prevention solutions.
The collaboration also resulted in the following impacts and benefits:
- Nine new jobs created,
- More technical and production-based roles soon to be created to assist with processing recycled plastic,
- On target to reduce their CO2 emissions by two and a half thousand tonnes over the next three years,
- Cycle time and energy use reduction on various processes - 20% reduction in cycle time on 9/13L lid machine
- 10g reduction of plastic per part on 9/13L lid component through process optimisation,
- Improved quality control procedures that have resulted in less wasted material,
- Technology Readiness Level of incorporating recyclate in production raised from level 3 to level 5. WRAP funding will assist with progression to a fully commercial TRL 7, bringing with it significant commercial and environmental benefits.
Additional value to the project has been a dedicated EU-Funded Materials and Manufacturing Academy (M2A) Masters student whose work is complementary to the ASTUTE 2020+ project, providing Vernacare with additional support whilst the student is participating in industrial led research training.