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A chair made of insulin pens

Danish pharma giant Novo Nordisk produces a lot of insulin pens. These plastic products are an essential part of the lives of people living with diabetes, but they are also part of the world’s plastic challenge.

An insulin pen cannot be thrown into the plastic recycling bin and they often end up in general household waste, which is far from optimal. For this reason, the company are looking into ways to give their devices a second life. In order to recycle the plastic parts, Novo Nordisk first needed to find a way of automatically sorting the pen’s many components. A machine was designed for this reason and a pilot testing on pens discarded after production has shown great results.

600 million pen devices are produced every year by Novo Nordisk. An insulin pen consists of around 77% plastic.”

“It just worked – so well, in fact, that we were able to use the discarded plastic to make office chairs, in collaboration with a Danish design firm,” says Dorethe Nielsen, Vice President of Environmental Strategy at Novo Nordisk. “Meanwhile, the glass from our discarded insulin vials has also been given a new lease of life after being melted down to create lamps.”

Read more: The waste of one – the raw material of the other

The next challenge is to scale up the solution, which until now has only been used for pens that never make it off the production line. The company also needs to come up with an easy way of collecting used pens from the end users. To this end, projects termed take-back pilot projects are currently running in Denmark, the UK and Brazil. In addition the Danish project Returpen has just been expanded to cover pharmacies across Denmark for at least three years. The company expects to launch take-back projects in more countries over the next couple of years.

Read more: The Swedish pharma industry launches Sustainability Manifesto

Photo: Novo Nordisk