Lessons from the lab – working across the supply chain to divert plastic from landfill
In an ideal world, recycling would be simple - all households and businesses would follow the same systems, and ‘best practice’ would be standard behaviour.
Of course, the current reality is far from an aligned utopia.
Multiple suppliers across different contracts, outdated processes, and sometimes a lack of care, can lead to vast volumes of resources going to landfill instead of being recycled.
But one lab is an excellent example of best practice, working across its supply chain to rethink internal processes and purchasing decisions to increase recycling.
The University of York is making strides
Researchers from the University of York have developed a new system for recycling single-use plastics used in some scientific experiments; other businesses and labs who can learn from their lessons.
This change stemmed from the team understanding their original processes, and the reasons why so much waste previously could not be recycled.
The old processes involved super heating contaminated plastic equipment to sterilise it before bagging and sending to landfill. Up until now, many recycling plants wouldn’t accept laboratory plastics due to their perceived health and safety risks so this was standard process. A new disinfecting system means the plastic can be recycled.
PhD student, David Kuntin, said: ‘Landfill has to be a thing of the past if we are going to improve our global environment, so it is essential that we do what we can as scientists to ensure we are moving in the right direction.’
By changing their mindset, the researchers have been able to make strides to increase their recycling rates.
Changing Practices to Avoid Landfill
To increase recycling labs need to use materials which can be recycled, but many research facilities have multiple plastic suppliers and use products made from mixed materials. This is a common problem throughout the industry.
When the team understood the reasons for so much waste going to landfill, and reconsidered their approach, they were able to review their supply chain and ensure they chose products which could be recycled, putting a stop to the mixed materials from multiple suppliers. Also, introducing a colour code system for bins ensured materials are correctly segregated at source.
Not only did they consolidate their suppliers to improve recycling rates and reduce landfill waste, but by simplifying their process, they were able to benefit from fewer deliveries and disruptions to the busy lab department.
Through this best practice approach, the university is now recycling tonnes of plastic waste from labs that would previously have gone to landfill.
This an excellent example of best practice; by reviewing the products used and changing purchasing decisions to select items which can be recycled, colour coding bins to promote at source segregation and introducing new processes to enable recycling, the lab demonstrates diversion of plastic from landfill can be achieved by taking a view across the supply chain.
The approach is transferable to other business' who can learn from the lab's lessons.