BSPA Roundtable Addresses Disposal of Disposables

June 11, 2008
Laura Bush

Laura Bush was editor in chief of BioPharm International.

As the use of disposable bioprocessing equipment has increased, a new question is gaining prominence: What is the best way to dispose of the equipment after use?

As the use of disposable bioprocessing equipment has increased, a new question is gaining prominence: What is the best way to dispose of the equipment after use?

This was one of several questions discussed at the First Annual Business Roundtable of the Bio-Process Systems Alliance (BPSA, www.bpsalliance.org), held June 1, 2008, in San Diego.

In approaching the disposal question, John Boehm, bioprocess business unit manager of Colder Products Company, said that most companies start by examining their current practices for materials such as laboratory disposables and cleaning supplies. There are, however, additional methods used in other sectors and regions that US biopharmaceutical companies may not yet have experience using.

Grinding and Autoclaving

Hospitals, for example, generally grind and autoclave disposable medical waste. This method is generally seen as safe and it reduces landfill waste. The biggest disadvantage of this method is the significant cost of setting up such a system if it is not already in place.

Incineration and Cogeneration

Incineration may be a good option, particularly if the heat generated can be captured and used as energy for the plant in a cogeneration setup. Incineration is fairly common in Europe and Asia. “We should look to Europe to study their best practices,” said Boehm. Again, one of the biggest impediments may be the upfront investment in the systems required; in Europe, the local community sometimes participates in this investment.

Incineration is generally seen as safe, and it reduces the volume and toxicity of waste sent to landfills. Some regions, however, restrict incineration, because they do not see it as environmentally friendly.

Recycling

Recycling, although initially appealing, has significant disadvantages. Recycling is impractical for most mixed materials, such as equipment composed of several layers of different polymers, some of which may contain non-recyclable thermoset materials like silicone rubber. Low volumes also present a challenge; a successful recycling program usually requires 1-3 million pounds of material per year, and most sites would not generate that volume of any single material.

Pyrolysis

A newer option is pyrolysis, in which the plastic is broken to extract the oil for other use. “The extracted oil is very pure, and burns cleaner than diesel fuel,” said Boehm. Pyrolysis is not very efficient, however, and also has a high capital cost, so a high volume would be needed to justify its use.

Industry Input

In most cases, Boehm said, companies will need to implement more than one approach, depending on the materials used and their biohazard levels. BPSA would like to develop a whitepaper offering an in-depth analysis of the available  options, to help companies identify and implement best practices. For this purpose, the organization is seeking input from end users, to understand what procedures companies are currently following and what they have learned from their experiences. End users interested in learning more about this study may contact John Boehm at john.boehm@colder.com

The BPSA roundtable, the first to include participation and presentations from end users, also addressed other topics, such as best practices for extractables and leachables testing, and end-user strategies for implementing disposable equipment. BPSA, originally formed in 2005 as an alliance of suppliers of disposable equipment, recently opened up membership in the organization to end users.