Energy and water used to clean stainless steel bioprocessing equipment make such traditional systems less environmentally friendly than single-use, but the problems of disposing plastic contaminated with bio-material means manufacturers are often opting to choose incineration or landfill rather than implementing a recycling scheme. Therefore industry needs to adapt standard and environmentally responsible disposal practices before it “becomes too set in its ways to change,” according to David Santillo, a Senior Scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories School of Bioscience.
He told Biopharma-Reporter.com there are well established post-use sterilization of culturing equipment technologies available, such as autoclaving and UV treatment. Despite having their own environmental impact, “it seems to make sense that they are at least investigated as alternatives to a default of incineration.”
Autoclaving, for example, does have a significant energy and water demand, he continued, but “once autoclaved, the material should be acceptable for specialised recycling.”
“There may, of course, be some sorts of bioreactions/microorganisms for which this would not be appropriate, but in most cases it should be sufficient to ensure biosafety for onward processing.”
However, he told us it was necessary for both vendors and manufacturers to “keep their practices and materials under continuous review,” so that innovation and improvements in environmental performance can be as timely and effective as developments in core business of the industry itself.
The future’s bright, the future’s green
Thermo Fisher Scientific, which offers a range of single-use bioreactors and systems, was optimistic as to future recycling efforts, despite current limitations on disposal methods.
“There exists tremendous variation among users and quality processes which impacts their ability to employ recycling programmes,” Dan Nelson, market manager of bioproduction, told us, adding the future may bring more localized and sustainable options.
“As users continue converting from stainless steel to single-use the opportunity will arise to implement new policies and procedures which further increase the environmental friendliness.”
However, fellow vendor EMD Millipore (Merck Millipore outside North America) said it is already working with customers on recycling programmes.
“Disposing products is a challenging task due to a general lack of recycling infrastructure. Furthermore, the material mix of the products, and the specific requirements for handling biologically hazardous residues, is also critical to address,” we were told.
“EMD Millipore conducted a life cycle assessment to measure key environmental impacts from end-of-life management and found that recycling can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from disposal by up to 14% in comparison to traditional disposal methods.”
The firm has already implemented several pilot initiatives with key customers to recycle mixed and soiled single-use materials. “Year to date, EMD Millipore has been able to divert approximately 188 tonnes of materials from landfill and incineration,” with approximately half being recycled and the rest being burned as an alternative fuel source to generate heat at a cement kiln.