August 28, 2019

Are single use technologies ecologically harmful? Correct disposal and recycling

Correct disposal and recycling play important roles when it comes to single use systems. With their utilization of one-way systems that are disposed of after use, single use technologies obviously seem to have a greater impact on our environment than stainless steel systems.

But in reality, single use technologies have a far smaller negative impact on the environment than stainless steel reactors. This can mainly be attributed to the massive amounts of water and energy that are required for cleaning and sterilization of traditional systems. You can find further information regarding this topic in a Life Cycle Assessment conducted by GE Healthcare Life Science in 2016/2017.

For biopharmaceutical manufacturers relying on single-use systems it is nonetheless important to take care of correct disposal in order to prevent violations of pollution control and safety guidelines. There are different options for correct waste disposal. Components that have come in contact with biological materials are labeled as hazardous and thus pose a specific challenge when it comes to one-way-system waste disposal.

Disposal Options for Utilized Single-Use Materials

Depending on what is best suited at their respective sites, biopharmaceutical manufacturers have various options when it comes to the disposal of their single-use waste. One of these options is WtE, which is short for Waste to Energy Incineration.

The advantage here is that waste is used for the generation of electricity or steam, which in turn can be used for heating. Additionally, this way of collecting and recycling waste is a practicable solution. However, this is not to say that WtE facilities are not susceptible to certain issues. Firstly, WtE facilities cannot be found in just about any region around the globe. And secondly, not all WtE facilities accept disposable materials labeled as hazardous.
Other users of single-use systems use sterilizers for the on-site treatment of utilized materials before disposing of them at a dump where it will be buried.

Recycling of Single Use Components

The recycling of single-use components is an extremely complex process. Single-use systems are usually made up of various synthetics that each require distinct treatment. This poses a major challenge as today’s technologically is not yet advanced enough to automatically separate the single synthetics.

Along with the growing popularity of single-use systems, the pressure to find environmentally friendly waste-disposal solutions is increasing too. Biopharmaceutical manufacturers are increasingly utilizing single use systems in order to save time, water – and money. As a result, they produce more and more waste. At the same time, our society’s environmental awareness is becoming more and more pronounced, and the impact of plastic on our planet has become a constant – and important – topic.

This is why a number of manufacturers and educational institutions that lobby for the utilization of single-use technologies have joined forces in the Bio-Process Systems Alliance. Currently, the BPSA is working on sustainable solutions as well as a guideline for the correct disposal of single-use systems.

Bioburden is one major problem when it comes to recycling disposable materials that have been utilized in the biopharmaceutical industry – it makes waste equipment practically not reusable. This is why in 2015, Millpore Sigma, a life science enterprise, has introduced a specific recycling program for single-use systems. Disposable synthetics are processed to become industrial-grade sawn timber that can be used as heating material in various industries such as agriculture, building and logistics. Like this, approximately 22% of waste from all single-use facilities on the US East Coast could be recycled to date.


Single-use systems are an ideal solution for the needs of the biopharmaceutical industry as they guarantee a reliable and scalable manufacturing process. They help save time, resources and money, and are far easier to implement than traditional stainless steel systems. In addition, single-use systems are generally more environmentally friendly than stainless steel facilities. The fact remains that single use systems generate much more plastic waste than other systems.

But it is an issue that the biopharmaceutical industry is aware. As already mentioned, various companies and organizations have been dealing in-depth with the challenges and consequences of plastic refuse, and they are committed to drive research in this field. Finding the correct and least harmful way of dealing with and disposing of single-use systems will remain a major challenge for the biopharmaceutical industry.