Making laboratory single-use plastics more circular– our work with LabCycle
Joint Industry Project
LabCycle partnered up with iCAST to investigate how to manufacture lab consumables with recycled plastics from decontaminated laboratory waste, helping research labs in the transition to Net Zero.
The research and healthcare sectors generate over 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste globally every year that end up in landfill or incinerated. This make-use-dispose linear economy model has imposed a great environmental burden on both land and atmosphere, and the value of exceptionally high-grade plastics used in research is lost to the supply chain.
But why is this happening, when so much research work is currently focusing on making plastics more circular?
Besides health and safety concerns about reusing these materials, the main reason is that a specialised recycling service for lab plastic waste simply doesn’t exist. Or, at least, it didn’t until LabCycle came along.
LabCycle is a startup co-founded by University of Bath’s alumna Helen Liang, and University of Surrey alumni Minal Patel and Colin Francis, and it was set up to create a circular economy for single-use plastic waste from Safety Level 1 & 2 labs and non-infectious waste from the healthcare sector.
The company has developed a validated sorting system and decontamination process to ensure the safe recycling of lab plastic waste, which can then be turned into high-level recycled plastic pellets. Although this is an immense opportunity to create a circular plastic supply chain, quality control is vital for lab consumable manufacturing.
With each remanufacturing cycle of recycled plastic, resin degrades. Manufacturing processes such as shredding, extruding and injection moulding alter the mechanical properties of polymers because they demand using heat and the material is exposed to other particulates within the machinery. As a result, with each cycle of manufacturing the end product is less similar to the original properties of the material. In other words, the quality of the plastic is affected.
LabCycle’s next big challenge, and the reason they sought a collaboration with iCAST, was complying with ISO 12771 Standards for Plastic Laboratory Ware and ISO 9001:2015 Standards for Manufacturers.
How can we recycle decontaminated lab waste to make usable lab products?
Plastic consumables used in research laboratories are often very high quality, with more than 90% of them being clear thermoplastics. Circularising these materials to make more lab-grade consumables can maintain the value of these high-quality materials within the supply chain.
LabCycle partnered up with iCAST in a Joint Industry Project (JIP) to investigate how to manufacture lab consumables with recycled plastics from decontaminated laboratory waste, to help research labs in the transition to Net Zero. Using the labs at the University of Bath for their pilot to recycle single-use plastic, the teams worked on characterising and evaluating the plastic resins from decontaminated lab waste, and proposing an optimal strategy to use these recycled plastics for manufacturing ISO-compliant lab consumables.
The teams hoped that a proof-of-concept study demonstrating the potential of LabCycle’s technology would set the start-up on a path to success, unlocking investment for this and other similar projects.
Towards a Net Zero NHS
Following their joint project, LabCycle and iCAST have been able to attract more funding, this time from SBRI Healthcare , to contribute delivering a Net Zero NHS.
The teams, in collaboration with NHS Blood and Transplant, will work to identify a solution to sort, decontaminate and recycle single-use plastics in the NHS to create a circular plastic supply chain in the healthcare sector.