Business Spotlight: SomaLogic Labs Help Pioneer New Recycling Stream

Learn more about why this biotech company is one to watch in the green space!

Eco-Cycle’s Zero Waste Hauling and Consulting Services team works with a sizable roster of local businesses to meet their recycling, composting, and hard-to-recycle hauling needs as well as guiding them toward the cutting edge of sustainable best practices. Many of our customers go above and beyond the requirements of Boulder’s Universal Zero Waste Ordinance, and one such customer is SomaLogic (which recently merged with Standard BioTools), a Boulder-based biotech company specializing in proteomics, the study of proteins. 

In partnership with Eco-Cycle, SomaLogic nurtures an outstanding ethos around sustainability that culminated in the innovation of a new recycling stream for lab plastics that is now available to other businesses in the area. In addition to this achievement, SomaLogic serves as an excellent model of best practices for other lab-based business endeavors looking to go green. 

The Problem

The demands of scientific research come with a heavy load of single-use disposable plastics that must be landfilled or collected as nonrecyclable hazardous waste due to coming in contact with biohazards, and/or being made from mixed materials. When sent to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) with other single-stream recyclable materials collected locally, scientific items such as pipette tip trays must be rejected, even if they are made from polypropylene (or plastic #5 PP), a type of plastic that is actually recyclable under local guidelines. This is because recycling facility operators cannot confirm the origin of these products. With no way to verify whether pipette trays were previously in contact with biohazards, they must err on the side of caution and landfill these items.

The Solution

To avoid landfilling lab plastics that were never in contact with hazardous waste, SomaLogic and Eco-Cycle partnered up with a local plastics recycler in Denver to turn these materials into recycled plastic “flake” that can be used for the production of items such as automotive parts. SomaLogic now collects their #5 PP pipette tip trays separately from their single-stream recycling, and through a collaborative effort to carefully manage contaminants, the three organizations are able to ensure that a steady stream of clean, recyclable PP product goes from the lab to the recycling plant instead of the landfill.

It takes strong communication among all stakeholders to ensure the process flows smoothly, and with that in place, this lab plastics recycling stream provides a glimpse into how sustainably conscious companies like SomaLogic/Standard BioTools, working with recycling experts at Eco-Cycle, can create a more efficient and environmentally responsible Zero Waste future!

The Process

Identifying ways to recycle difficult materials and generate less waste from the start, while actually saving the organization money, are just some of the benefits of a circular economy. SomaLogic adopted many of these Zero Waste practices to transition away from a linear take-make-waste production model. 

For example, Crissy DeGruccio, Senior Supply Chain Manager at SomaLogic, gave us some insight on the purchasing decisions that SomaLogic made in their Assay Services laboratory, where thousands of exact protein measurements are done on small blood samples. These decisions resulted in higher recyclability (and reduction of waste) of the lab products they utilize in their processes:

“Efforts were made to look at our biggest source of plastic wastes. We found that having individually packed buffers in the Assay Laboratory was generating a huge amount of waste, especially as assay volumes grew. We identified buffers that could be made in bulk, generating considerably less waste. Metrics were developed to identify the costs of the extra plastic in our laboratory. We looked at the Purchasing costs, as well as the extra manpower to fill additional bottles and the cost to recycle the additional waste. We realized there were benefits to getting rid of the plastics that benefited everyone in Operations.

A big challenge was determining ways to make bulk buffers that would still work in the Assay Services laboratory and provide a quality product and results.  Manufacturing spent quite a bit of time performing work to ensure accurate volumes could be dispensed from a bulk buffer. We also needed to identify ways to store the new bulk materials properly.

“It is a much better process for us now. We generate much less plastic waste, and this saves us time on filling buffers. It has saved us money and it makes us proud that we have found ways to be more green! We also worked closely with Eco-Cycle to ensure we identified all the different materials in our lab that could be recycled.”

– Crissy DeGruccio, SomaLogic purchasing department

Other impressive sustainability initiatives at SomaLogic

A robust and egalitarian Green Team of around two dozen people from across all departments and employment levels that works together to strategize new sustainability initiatives and find new ways to engage in the community. They offer sustainability programming including a Lunch ‘n’ Learn series that has hosted recycling trainings with Eco-Cycle staff and a field trip to the Boulder County Recycling Center operated by Eco-Cycle as well as the Eco-Cycle Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM).

✅ Excellent educational signage on-site and meticulously maintained recycling bins everywhere you look, including hard-to-recycle material collections where employees are encouraged to deposit not only plastic film and other materials generated at work, but are also welcome to bring in items from home. Watch the video tour in which Madeline “Mads” Welch, a Quality Control Laboratory Associate and co-leader of the company’s Green Team, shows us some of the infrastructure at SomaLogic/Standard BioTools that facilitates their standard of excellence. 

✅ A SomaHub intranet accessible to both remote and on-site workers where the Green Team curates useful information, coordinates seasonal challenges for eco-holidays and sustainability, and shares opportunities to get involved and give back to the community, such as:

✅ A Litterbug Hike in which Green Team volunteers gathered at the Boulder Creek Path and picked up trash. 

✅ A hugely successful Earth Day/Arbor Day plant swap hosted in-office. Staff brought in seedlings, seeds, pots, full-grown plants—and everything had been claimed by the end of the day.

✅ A World Water Day challenge to raise funds for eco-activist youth Mari Copeny’s foundation helping Flint, Michigan.

✅ A Holiday Drive to reduce textile/home goods waste in partnership with Eco-Cycle’s CHaRM and local charities Sister Carmen Community Center and A Precious Child.

Energy efficiency on-site: Starting in 2020, the company has converted all fluorescent lighting to LED lighting. To save on the cost and waste of swapping in new lighting fixtures, they opted to remove the ballast and utilize “plug and play” bulbs that fit right into the same fixture. One of their buildings on Wilderness Place has converted to motion-sensor lighting in all labs, and are working toward converting the other building as well. In the meantime, every light switch has a reminder sticker above it to turn off the lights when you’re not in the room.

According to Chris Tapparo, Senior Manager of Laboratory Operations and one of the founding members of the Green Team, both the incoming staff as well as customers at SomaLogic find value in their sustainability initiatives, with some customers vetting the company’s recycling program and other eco-efforts as a deciding factor in their decision of whether to go with SomaLogic. With the help of a diversion report created through Eco-Cycle’s Hauling and Consulting Services, Chris was able to send metrics on discards to an inquiring prospect for both buildings when the customer expressed interest.

SomaLogic’s “lab results” demonstrate how one company’s sustainability ethic led to new solutions in the recycling world. Thank you to SomaLogic and its incredible staff for demonstrating how we all have a role to play in building circular economies!  

“The Green Team’s work in Boulder is a shining example of continuously improving our efforts to create sustainable and environmentally friendly business processes. We see sustainability as a vital step in protecting our planet and also a way of delivering value to our customers who are increasingly seeking partners who prioritize green practices.”

– Michael Egholm, President and CEO of Standard BioTools

Many thanks to Emilia Costales, Chris Tapparo, Madeline Welch, Crissy DeGruccio, and Michael Egholm for sharing insights on the sustainability practices at SomaLogic/Standard BioTools, with special thanks to Nick Miranda and Paul Bosman at Eco-Cycle.