Turning plastic waste destined for landfill into something new
Above: Industry-wide, hundreds of millions of filters are disposed of every year. We hope that our initiative with TerraCycle will inspire others in the life sciences industry to find sustainable recycling solutions.
Each time a lab technician uses a Whatman-made syringe filter, the plastic waste that remains is the size of a checkers game piece. Cytiva produces more than 25 million syringe filters every year which are used in a variety of settings, from healthcare pharmacies to monitoring air pollution levels.
Making products generates waste and to make our syringe filters, we use about 88 tons of plastic material a year. That’s the equivalent of approximately six full-size school buses.
We’re concerned about the environmental impact of sending this plastic waste to landfill or to be incinerated, so we’re piloting a program with international recycling leader, TerraCycle, to collect our plastic filters and turn them into something new. An innovative waste management company, operating nationally across 20 countries, TerraCycle partners with leading consumer product companies, retailers and cities to recycle typically unrecyclable products and packaging that would otherwise end up in the landfill.
"Plastic waste is a real concern in labs. Syringe filters account for around 15% of the plastics we sell by weight – this makes it a good place to look at recycling options,” explains Martin Westberg, Cytiva General Manager for Lab Filtration. “If we can crack this challenge it helps our customers and moves us forward as a company to realizing our sustainability ambitions.”
Recycling syringe filters is complex as they contain a membrane that must be separated from the surrounding plastic prior to recycling.
Dan McElroy, Cytiva Global Syringe Filter Product Leader, identified the right partner. “We were looking for an organization to tackle what is considered impossible to recycle. TerraCycle has experience recycling material from lab environments and handling mixed plastics. They solved complex challenges like diapers and cigarette filters. Essentially, they have a strong purpose; to help companies make zero waste happen.”
Above: TerraCycle will provide Cytiva’s customers with information on recycling, boxes to store the syringe filters, and a system for returning the boxes.
The way the program will work is that TerraCycle boxes will be provided to labs to collect used filters. Each box can contain approximately 10,000 syringe filters. Once collected, the filters will be recycled into material suitable for use in industrial applications, such as composite decking, shipping pallets, and compression molding products.
The pilot with TerraCycle will initially focus on the United States and only with customers who are not generating biological or hazardous waste.
Closing the loop
The initiative, while designed to reduce the amount of plastic waste sent to the landfill, can also contribute to our customers’ own sustainability goals. Through Cytiva’s work with TerraCycle, we are able to provide collection and recycling metrics that authenticate the end-of-life solution for the syringe filters, ensuring that they have been properly recycled.
“It’s important that the solution isn’t at the expense of other climate impacts and that it channels our waste so it can be reused” says Dan. “That’s why TerraCycle designed in-country solutions for reduced transport. We’re committed to finding more sustainable solutions, and we believe this program will inspire others in the life sciences industry to follow suit. When we close the loop, everyone gains.”