20 February 2020

Protein Center starts sustainable use of trays

Sustainable labs

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research (CPR) has arranged with its supplier of pipette tips to collect the packaging for direct reuse. This is good news for the planet and the economy.

Researchers at CPR use many pipette tips every day in their research. The tips come in "trays" made of hard plastic. Until recently, the empty trays were sorted as hard plastic which is much better than throwing them in the normal bin. But in January this year, the center found an even better solution: the supplier Saveen Werner offers to collect the empty trays and reuse them. This was great news, as the center previously only has been able to ensure reuse of the outer boxes that the trays are delivered in.

CPR has sorted plastic waste since last summer. Through this, it has become clear that the trays make up a substantial amount of the centre’s entire plastic waste production. One of the 10 laboratories at CPR alone uses approximately 2300 trays each year. So the new collection scheme has the potential to reduce the total plastic waste considerably.

Trays in a bin
The trays (in the middle) make up a good deal of the sorted waste

"In the past we paid to get rid of the trays which were picked up as hard plastic by the waste company. Now the supplier picks them up and reuses them. It is cheaper for UCPH and more sustainable," states Nikoline Borgermann, researcher at CPR.

Green working group was founded

Nikoline Borgermann has started a green working group at the Center: CPR Goes Green, which played a central part in the implementation of the new initiative.

The boxes containing the trays have been reused for many years, but it is a new thing, that the trays can be collected and reused by the supplier

The centre’s Procurement Officer realised by chance that the supplier offered to collect the trays after use. She contacted the green working group, who then took on the task of putting up bins for collecting the trays.

"In the past, our procurement officer, Bente, might not have known who to turn to with this piece of information. But since we established the group, it is clear where to go, if you have a green idea", Nikoline Borgermann explains. She thinks it holds great value for the Center to have a green working group. "If somebody comes up with a green initiative, they can contact us. I think it is easier to successfully introduce green initiatives in the laboratories, when they are implemented by people who will have to ‘live with it’."

CPR has shared this new initiative with the administration of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. They are now looking into whether other suppliers also offer collection of plastic trays for reuse. If so, the ambition is that eventually all trays can be collected for reuse, across the Faculty. Due to preference, certain groups at CPR currently use the pipette tips from Saveen Werner instead of  those provided through the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences’ central Web Shop. The supplier of the pipette tips in the Web Shop is currently not offering to take back and reuse the plastic trays, but this will hopefully change.

Aiming to inspire

CPR Goes Green is working on a couple of other initiatives as well. Among others, the group has already made a campaign to reduce paper tissue use, they have implemented organic milk, and they have put a QR-code on the centre’s printers, instructing how to print on both sides. They are currently working on a pilot project on waste sorting in their kitchens.  Some of the upcoming projects include reuse of coffee grounds, ie via Beyond Coffee, and possibly using non-bleached paper for printing.

Goes Green has worked with several green initiatives, including minimising wrapping of their pipettes

"I think it works well, because we let people decide for themselves. We don't want to be a “Green Police Force”. We just want to make it easy for everyone to make sustainable choices," Nikoline Borgermann says. This goes for the pipette trays as well. No one is forced to use the reuse bins – CPR Goes Green just put up collection bins and facilitates the collection by the supplier.

The center CBMR is collaborating with CPR Goes Green to create a similar green working group. Nikoline Borgermann encourages other centers to organise green working groups as well. She will gladly share the experiences from CPR Goes Green with other centers or departments. If you are interested, you are welcome to contact her.

"We are not going to save the planet at CPR. But we can inspire others, and if we are many, we can make a difference" Nikoline Borgermann says. Reusing the trays from the pipette tips is a step in the right direction.