Baxter’s New Pilot Targets Intravenous Bag Recycling for Hospitals

A healthcare worker recycles an IV bag as Baxter Advances First Intravenous (IV) Bag Recycling Pilot for U.S. Hospitals

(Credit: Northwestern Medicine)

by | Dec 18, 2023

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Baxter International has completed the first phase of an intravenous (IV) bag recycling program with Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.

More than 6 tons of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) IV bag waste have been diverted from landfills in the first part of the pilot project to be recycled for a useful second life, according to the corporation. The pilot fills a gap in healthcare product recycling, as the typical standard practice for IV bag removal is to drain the fluids and dispose of the bags as waste.

The pilot leveraged third-party logistics and recycling partners and stakeholders from several Northwestern Memorial Hospital departments to develop a new process that separates material into nursing workflow within hospital setting constraints. Collected IV bags were transported and inspected to eventually be recycled into products such as industrial floor mats and protective edging for docks and landscaping. The IV bags in the pilot were all made of PVC, one of the most widely used plastic materials in medical products.

Baxter International is a medical equipment supplier with a portfolio of diagnostic, critical care, kidney care, nutrition, hospital, and surgical products used across various care settings, including patient homes, hospitals, and physician offices.

“Across the country, hundreds of thousands of IV bags are used every day,” Cecilia Soriano, president of Baxter’s Infusion Therapies and Technologies division, said in a statement. “Baxter is a proud manufacturer and supplier of these bags, which are ubiquitous in hospital care — particularly single-use plastic containers that provide patients clinically essential solutions including fluids, nutrition, and medicines. In line with Baxter’s commitments as a responsible corporate citizen, we believe this pilot helps pave the way for meaningful, long-term waste reduction.”

Growing Sustainability in Healthcare

Baxter is the latest company in the healthcare space to test out a new sustainability program.

One recent study from Royal Philips and Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that when healthcare systems focus on sustainability efforts, the outcome can be both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Other notable efforts in the space have included Bausch + Lomb’s recycling program launch for eye products, GE Healthcare and ReLink Medical’s medical device waste reduction program and Cabinet Health’s pill bottle recycling program. 

Following the success of the pilot, Northwestern said it plans to continue implementing the program and explore expanding it within the health system. It is now seeking to engage additional health system participants in the Chicago area to explore expanding the process and its economic feasibility.

“We are proud to pilot this program with Baxter to be the first health system in the nation to begin recycling PVC IV bags,” Jeff Good, Northwestern Medicine’s first chief sustainability executive and vice president of operations, said in a statement. “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. 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.”

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