QIAwave, sutainability, recycling

Sustainability

Tackling the lab waste challenge

June 05, 2022 

All local recommended safety guidelines followed at the time of interview.

Laboratories have a waste problem. Every day they go through large quantities of single-use plastic. This is seen as an unavoidable consequence of safety and hygiene regulations. But more and more, people in the industry have begun to ask if there is a more sustainable alternative. QIAGEN now has some of the answers with a new line of extraction kits that can help reduce lab waste when used instead of QIAGEN's standard kits.

Improving sustainability doesn’t happen overnight – it requires new ideas, new materials and changes in behavior. All of which can be especially challenging in a highly regulated industry like biopharma, where strict regulations are needed to ensure diagnostic and healthcare products are sterile.

The result is approximately 30,000 tons of single-use products landfilled or incinerated globally every year.

There is, however, an appetite for change, as Inga Irle, marketing manager, and Andreas Hecker, product manager for QIAGEN’s new QIAwave product line, found out. Both are driven by a commitment to improving sustainability and have contributed to the company’s steps toward this goal. They know how challenging it can be but weren’t deterred from thinking big. Sometimes it just takes an impulse to get the ball rolling.

QIAwave, sutainability
Andreas Hecker, Ph.D. is Senior Global Product Manager, responsible for the QIAwave product line. The idea was born out of his desire to reduce plastic waste both at home and in his professional life.
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Storage space is an issue in every lab. There‘s never enough of it.

Inga Irle, Ph.D., Senior Strategic Marketing Manager, QIAGEN

Instigating change

“Everything changed for me when the pandemic started,” says Hecker. “During the first lockdown, my wife and I started to rethink our behavior in terms of our impact on the environment. We wanted to reduce the amount of waste we generated, so we started to get our groceries from stores where you can buy dry goods without packaging.”

It was the beginning of a journey that evolved over the following months. “We found it takes a lot of effort to change your behavior,” he says. “It‘s so convenient to go to the supermarket. But slowly we’ve started to change our habits and adapt to this new style of shopping.” Once Hecker had seen that change was possible in his private life, he turned his attention to work.

“I thought, how can we translate that to QIAGEN? We were already working on plastic reduction, but I wanted to see if we could drive it further,” he says. “We started to talk to customers, and many were open to exploring ideas that could reduce our impact on the environment as an industry. So this is when the idea for QIAwave arose.”

Inga Irle, Ph.D.
Inga Irle, Ph.D. is Senior Strategic Marketing Manager for QIAwave. She is impressed by the adaptability of customers and colleagues to help to improve sustainability.
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Question the status quo of each and every material.  Ask yourself, why is it made like that and is that really necessary.

Andreas Hecker, Ph.D., Senior Global Product Manager, QIAGEN

Working out what will work 

QIAwave is a new line of nucleic acid extraction kits that use fewer components and produce less waste than existing QIAGEN kits. The QIAwave RNA Mini Kit, Plasmid Miniprep Kit and the DNA Blood & Tissue Kit use up to 63 % less plastic and up to 42 % less cardboard compared to our standard kits.

These results were achieved by looking at every material and component and asking if there was a feasible, more sustainable alternative to existing kits. The Waste Tubes, for example, are made from 100 % recycled plastic, and the chosen buffer being more concentrated than standard buffers allows it to be transported in smaller bottles.

Unlike other initiatives at QIAGEN to reduce waste, this involves not only new ideas and new materials, but also new behavior. “Our ready-to-use kit concept is what has made us a success,” says Irle.

“QIAwave is slightly different. With the buffer concentrate, for example, additional steps are required before you can use the product. But we see that our customers are prepared to accept this to become more sustainable than existing kits.”

Plastics

Single-use disposable plastic has long been accepted as an unavoidable part of laboratory work, especially in the tightly regulated molecular diagnostics space. But scientists, businesses and research institutes are now looking for ways to minimize its use.

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By designing out the excess, we’ve improved sustainability and helped our customers So, in this sense too, QIAwave is a game-changer.

Inga Irle, Ph.D., Senior Strategic Marketing Manager, QIAGEN

Collaboration creates innovation

To ensure the idea would work, Hecker and the team involved customers at an early stage, carrying out customer surveys and observation. “We literally looked over the shoulders of our customers as they did nucleic acid isolation,” says Hecker. “From that, we could see what we could change.

We came up with the new designs, tested them, and then asked our customers to what extent they were willing and technically able to adapt their behavior. The majority were very open to change.”

Of course, there were challenges. There were some concerns about recycled plastic coming into contact with samples. The team overcame this by making the QIAwave recycled plastic Waste Tubes in a different color so that they stand out.

QIAwave is a portfolio of products offered alongside QIAGEN’s existing range. This gives customers a choice. Irle and Hecker believe that many will choose the more sustainable option over our standard kits, given that many of QIAGEN’s customers are making environmental commitments of their own.

QIAwave, sutainability

Becoming more sustainable requires considerable effort, but every change makes a difference. The smaller the kit box, the more kits can be fitted on a pallet, and that translates into fewer trucks and fewer emissions from transport. It can also bring other benefits. “Storage space is an issue in every lab. There‘s never enough of it. So, in this sense too, QIAwave is a game-changer,” says Irle. “By designing out the excess, we’ve improved sustainability and helped our customers solve one of the constant challenges of lab work.”

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We’ve seen a big change in mindset within our industry. Sustainability is going mainstream.

Andreas Hecker, Ph.D., Senior Global Product Manager, QIAGEN

The beginning of a journey 

Becoming more sustainable requires considerable effort, but every change makes a difference. The smaller the kit box, the more kits can be fitted on a pallet, and that translates into fewer trucks and fewer emissions from transport. It can also bring other benefits. “Storage space is an issue in every lab. There‘s never enough of it. So, in this sense too, QIAwave is a game-changer,” says Irle. “By designing out the excess, we’ve improved sustainability and helped our customers solve one of the constant challenges of lab work.”

To enable customers to calculate how much waste they save annually by switching from our standard kits to our QIAwave Kits, the team has developed an online tool. And this is only the beginning. “We‘re working on more improvements,” says Hecker.

“We’ve seen a big change in mindset within our industry. Sustainability is going mainstream.” Irle and Hecker’s advice for anyone else looking to improve the sustainability of their products: “Question the status quo of each and every material.  Ask yourself, why is it made like that and is that really necessary,” says Hecker. “And don’t aim for a 100 % solution at the beginning. From status quo to an ideal world takes many steps. Dissect your project into pieces that are achievable within a defined period of time. Then you know you’re going in the right direction, and it will evolve over time.”

QIAwave, sutainability

QIAwave is a new line of nucleic acid extraction kits that use fewer components and produce less waste than existing ones. The QIAwave RNA Mini Kit, Plasmid Miniprep Kit and the DNA Blood & Tissue Kit use up to 63 % less plastic and up to 42 % less cardboard compared to our standard kits.

Rethinking our products to reduce waste

Find out about our ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions and decrease our plastic footprint.

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