Waste management

What is Waste management at AstraZeneca?

Company operations generate waste, including biological waste and hazardous waste, and we work with specialist third parties to manage its disposal. Waste can have adverse impacts on the environment and human health through pollution.

Our approach

We look at waste not only in its end state, but also evaluate how it was produced. We work to the waste hierarchy, focussing on waste prevention and reduction, then prioritising the reuse, recycling and safe disposal of the waste materials we produce in
distinct ways:

  • Production: Product design and process innovations to decrease waste byproducts created during manufacturing; solvent
    recovery systems recycle reducing the need for raw materials
  • On-site with employees: Employees identify waste elimination projects and implement process changes or apply for funding from
    the Natural Resources Reduction Governance Group
  • Disposal: We work to the waste hierarchy, maximising opportunities to reuse and recycle where possible

Our key targets and progress

See the Sustainability Data Summary for all metrics and methodology

Our stories

Creating a culture of sustainability in the labs

At AstraZeneca, we want to innovate new medicines for patients in sustainable ways, and how we work in the lab makes a difference. From washing glassware to disposing of gloves, everything we do in our labs contributes to our environmental footprint. This year, we started a global Green Labs initiative across six of our research sites in partnership with the not-for-profit organization, My Green Lab.

Through the program and My Green Lab certification process, scientists learn about and assess our lab practices with respect to waste, energy, water and chemicals so we can continuously improve our environmental footprint. Each of our research facilities is actively pursuing ways to reduce and better manage waste. We have seen how this program allows us to share best practices and helps scientists see environmental impacts that were perhaps invisible before. In turn, this will lead to behavioural changes in and around the lab.

From single-use to reusable thermal packaging

Each year, we send 60,000 products to hospitals and clinics for clinical trial distribution. It involves a huge amount of packaging. Our original process used a box the size of a small table, each containing 15kg of packaging that had to be thrown away after delivery and recipients were responsible for its disposal. 

Our distribution partner told us that reusable thermal packaging was available, but other companies had tried it unsuccessfully – only 50% of sites sent the box back, and the remaining were charged to the sponsor as lost boxes. We decided to work with our distribution partner to develop a new approach involving a returns process. We collaborated with sites and shipping companies to ensure the returns process would work. Some simple ideas like asking our distribution contact to use the brightest coloured paper for returns instructions – a pink envelope would get more attention than just a white sheet of paper. We started with a pilot, followed by roll-out across 35 countries.

The results: 

  • 98% returns rate (target of 80%)
  • $3.9 million cost savings 
  • saved packaging waste equivalent to the weight of 747-jumbo jet

Transition away from single-use plastics

We tackle waste generation by collaborating inside and outside our organization. At our sites, we are coordinating to quantify and remove avoidable single-use plastics (SUPs) in food service, cleaning and office areas. 

In 2019, initiatives across our sites removed over two million pieces of plastic cutlery with compostable or reusable alternatives and an initiative at Macclesfield reduced over one million small milk containers by moving to larger bottles and integrating milk into drinks machines. Our Gaithersburg site in the US has removed virtually all single use plastics from food service areas. For 2020, we have signed on to the UK National Health Service (NHS) Plastics Pledge across all our R&D and operations sites.

Turning medical waste into products

We produce waste in our labs and its disposal can have huge environmental impacts. To turn waste from a problem to a resource, we joined the Red2Green recycling program in Gaithersburg, US. This takes our regulated medical waste and turns it into plastic lumber material which is manufactured into speed bumps, farm tools, park benches, and more.

Learn more about Waste management in our Sustainability Report.