European project aims to reduce e-waste in digital health products

Image source: istock.com/Arkadiusz Warguta

A group of 20 organisations from nine countries has launched a four-year project aimed at dealing with the issue of digital health waste.

Named Digital Health in a Circular Economy (DiCE), it is led by Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, involves representatives from manufacturing industry, research, and recycling sectors, and has received funding through the EU’s Horizon Europe programme.

The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Forum, which is supporting the project, said the use of digital health devices is predicted to increase rapidly over the next five years, with expected annual global growth rates of almost 20% by 2027.

DiCE will focus on testing and piloting solutions for a product’s end-of-life.

It will involve the development of four products: an e-paper label, a smart wearable sensor, a smart pill box and an endo-cutter used in surgical procedures, each of which presents different issues. They will be tested in five healthcare systems through pilot projects in Norway, Belgium, Slovenia, Spain, and Germany.

The project will take into consideration design, state of the art refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling technology that could allow maximum recovery of the product, its components and, when reuse options are no longer available, its materials.

Transition to circular and sustainable

The WEEE Forum said this will support a transition from a fragmented and linear ‘take, make, waste’ business model towards a circular and sustainable one, enabling the re-use of products and recovery of components and raw materials.

Devices such as smart pill boxes, electronic blood collection devices, wearable monitors and intelligent labels are increasingly being used to improve healthcare efficiency and conditions for patients, but they are creating increasing amounts of e-waste.

The devices contain critical and valuable raw materials that are important to the European economy, but the latest figures from Eurostat and the UN show that less than 40% of all e-waste is reported as being properly recycled in the EU, and less than 20% globally.

Much of it is incinerated due to a perceived risk of biological or chemical contamination, with or without energy recovery, and the WEEE Forum said a new approach is needed to help meet the demand for raw materials. This is in line with the 16 ethical EU principles for digital health developed by the French Presidency of the EU, with four focused on environmental sustainability, including eco-design, reuse, and recycling.

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