In recent years, people’s awareness of the environment has grown exponentially, and scientists are no exception. More and more “green teams” are emerging, made up of researchers, students and support staff who organise themselves into a group to try to reduce the impact of scientific activity on the environment.
The PRBB Sustainability Group was created with the aim of improving scientific practices and the impact of the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) on the environment. One of its first initiatives, which was carried out during the month of March, was the donation of cold accumulators, which arrive in our laboratories by the dozens every day. This is a waste product that is routinely discarded, although totally reusable, and that with this initiative gains a second life.
«I was surprised that so much was collected in one week, and even more surprised to think that until now it was all being thrown away.»
Irene Higueras – Laboratory technician, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
This collaborative effort of all PRBB institutes to reduce waste has succeeded in diverting 226 kilos of waste from landfills in approximately one month. The calculation per year is easy: at least 2.7 tonnes of cold accumulators are discarded at the PRBB alone. Irene Higueras, a technician in the Translational Synthetic Biology group at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, says: “I was surprised that so much was collected in one week, and even more surprised to think that until now it had all been thrown away. I am convinced that this initiative will help to raise awareness of all the waste we generate in our day-to-day work as researchers. I hope that in time we will all join in”.
This initiative has counted on the collaboration and support of the PRBB, from the communication department to the infrastructure and logistics department, and is evidence of the will to promote change and improve the environmental situation.
A patch for a bigger problem
The idea for the donation came about after exploring ways to prevent this material from going to landfill. In Barcelona, el Banc dels Aliments has previously received donations of cold storage blocks from the Parc Científic and the Hospital del Mar. In fact, according to Ferrán, a Banc dels Aliments volunteer, the Generalitat signed an agreement for the donation of the cold storage blocks that arrived with the COVID-19 vaccines at the Hospital del Mar. “We use them when we prepare the delivery of frozen food, because we don’t have refrigerated lorries,” says Ferran.
The donation of these blocks is a temporary solution. The Banc dels Aliments now has a surplus of cold accumulators and will not be able to collect any more for a season. At the laboratory it is now difficult for us to throw these accumulators away again, so we continue to keep the ones that arrive and we have set to work to find another organisation that can reuse them. But the real change will come when the distribution companies take responsibility for the waste they produce.
The PRBB Sustainability Group has contacted distribution companies to propose the adoption of a return programme. Some companies are already doing this with polystyrene boxes. The idea has been well received by some companies, and perhaps in the coming months we will see a change. Until then, we will continue to look for solutions.