When Biotech Applies Missions of Sustainability to Their Own Practices to Benefit the Planet
An interview with Kristin Butcher, Sr. Scientist at Twist Bioscience, a Polycarbin partner.
If you throw a rock into the biotech hubs of Silicon Valley or Boston you’ll hit three companies that tout “health and sustainability” as part of their core values and mission before the rock hits the ground. But how many of these organizations go beyond enabling their customers to act on these important global issues and look internally to improve their own sustainability practices?
It turns out that Twist Bioscience is one that certainly walks the walk when it comes to putting sustainability first in their operations. Their mission states, “by using our synthetic DNA tools, our customers are developing ways to better lives and improve the sustainability of the planet”. But they also know that in developing their products and services, while their footprint is much smaller than companies making DNA in 96 well plates, some plastic is still used in the process. So, it’s no surprise that they looked to integrate sustainability practices into their own lab work to reduce their footprint even further.
The lab plastic waste issue was certainly not lost on Sr. Scientist Kristin Butcher, who has been an R&D scientist at Twist for over 7 years. While studying for a master’s degree in environmental management, she saw the juxtaposition between her day job where she wears gloves and uses pipette tips and tubes and her evening classes about how to reduce plastic waste.
Together with Carlos Zapata, who leads Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) efforts at Twist, Butcher started to do something about it. Beginning with a program to recycle used nitrile gloves that was deemed successful, Butcher aimed to expand the recycling efforts to more dense plastics that would have a higher impact on carbon emissions - namely, lab plastic consumables.
After a quick and easy evaluation with Polycarbin co-founder Noah Pyles to determine which plastics in the lab could be recycled and where best to place the Carbins, the Twist R&D team began circularizing their used pipette tip boxes. Speaking to the ease of getting started with Polycarbin, Butcher explained, “I love that you can order however many Carbins you think you’ll need and fill them at your own pace. Because you can mail them back anytime, you can start small and get the feel for what kind of volume of recycling you’ll eventually need.”
But recycling was only half the story and Butcher knew it. “By restocking our R&D labs with pipette tips and tubes that Polycarbin makes from the recycled plastics they collect, we are also reducing the carbon emissions associated with drilling oil for virgin materials, transporting those materials, and shipping final products from overseas. I don’t know of any other solution like that.”
So what are the next set of sustainability milestones for the Twist team? Having received great feedback upon sharing their Carbin Counter results with a cross functional team at Twist, which is the online dashboard that shows how much impact your organization has had by circularizing lab plastics, they’re looking forward to further reducing their footprint. “We are hoping that in the near future we can implement the similar programs across all Twist’s facilities, including Oregon and Massachusetts,” says Zapata.
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