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VWR and Johnson & Johnson join forces to close the loop

angelo gilardelli
Pharmaceutical waste recycling can be a challenge.

As sustainability becomes more rooted in the supply chain, suppliers and customers have opportunities to align with one another. VWR, an independent provider of products, services and solutions to laboratory and production facilities, did just that, aligning with its customer Janssen R&D, LLC.

I spoke with both Megan Maltenfort, sustainability manager at VWR, and Michael Keany, who runs the supplier sustainability program at Janssen R&D. Janssen is the research and development arm of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Keany's program is part of a larger Johnson & Johnson Supplier Sustainability Program.

As is the case for most consumer packaged goods companies, the Janssen R&D lab — part of the Johnson & Johnson web of companies — is a pivotal place for product research, development and testing. It can also be a very wasteful place.  

Used lab products must be disposed of, and this creates hundreds of thousands of pounds of waste. One of these used products, pipet tip boxes, is made of a plastic that is not commonly accepted by industrial recycling programs, and it has become part of a significant waste stream to landfills and incinerators.

The VWR program, "From the Lab Bench to the Park Bench (PDF)," launched in the United States in 2012, provides a way for packaging waste from pipet tips sold by VWR to be recycled by Janssen R&D as well as by the labs of other VWR customers.

VWR contracted TerraCycle as the recycling vendor to grind, melt and pelletize the plastic waste to create recycled resin, which is combined with other recycled plastics to make park benches and other eco-friendly products.

The recycling program is not exclusive to Janssen R&D. To date, more than 100 of VWR’s customers in the U.S. and Canada participate in the program, and the company’s associates are working hard to add more.

"As a company, we work hard to know our customers and their goals so that we can support them with the products and services they need. This is a great example of how we partner with customers to identify innovative solutions that support our businesses and make a difference,” said Maltenfort.

Win Win for VWR and Johnson & Johnson

The program has proved to be a winning one for both Janssen R&D and VWR. They were fortunate with the timing as both were expanding their efforts around customer and supplier sustainability at the same time. Each was delighted to expand their relationship.

“VWR was one of the first companies to really embrace this,” said Keany, who runs Janssen R&D, LLC's Supplier Sustainability Program. “[They] have been a leader in this type of collaboration with our team in support of our program, alignment with our key strategies and goals, and working with us on testing new innovative ideas for sustainability.”

Here are some benefits of the collaboration:

Case studies, awards and conference speaking opportunities

The VWR and Janssen R&D collaboration won a Johnson & Johnson’s Supplier Sustainability Award. They have presented together at conferences about the success of their collaboration.

E-learning

VWR developed an e-learning platform to further encourage employees to identify sustainability opportunities with customers similar to the Johnson & Johnson collaboration. To date, 2,300 associates have completed the e-learning training. According to Grant Ricketts of Tripos Software, who has supported the e-learning programs for VWR, “For employees themselves, the online learning provides an immersive experience whereby they become more attuned to how sustainability applies to their everyday work and are more empowered to act. This helps move sustainability from ‘lip service’ to become a valuable set of working tools that improve productivity and company culture.”

Measurable results

To date, Janssen R&D has recycled more than 175,000 pipet tip boxes and has diverted over 30,000 pounds of plastic waste from the landfill, enough to make 272 park benches.

Beyond Tip Boxes

“Through our Tip Box Recycling Program, we have been able to build stronger customer relationships which has led to collaboration in other areas with our customers. We continue to encourage our customers to share their goals with us so we can work together to identify innovative and impactful programs that help make a difference,” Maltenfort said.

VWR and Janssen R&D are exploring other ways to collaborate on sustainability initiatives and are also sharing best practices. For example, VWR offers a car-sharing program for its employees, and Johnson & Johnson is considering launching a similar program for its employees.

For Janssen R&D, “at one of our sites in Beerse, Belgium they’re using the recycling program as an opportunity to develop a larger sustainability program called Green Labs. They’re now looking at new ways to reduce carbon emissions, energy costs and packaging materials,” Keany said.

It’s exciting to see companies such as Johnson & Johnson and VWR embrace such partnerships to not only engage its workforce, but also create sustainable impact. Johnson & Johnson is working towards its Healthy Future 2015 goals, which builds on previous environmental goal setting and includes Supplier Sustainability. VWR will publish its 2015 Sustainability Report in the coming weeks, which will highlight the company’s global sustainability efforts.

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