From separating waste to lower energy consumption in labs: how can we improve sustainability on Wageningen Campus?

Published on
February 10, 2023

That was the central question during the Campus Connect Café in Impulse on Thursday, 2 February. To start off with the waste that is produced on Wageningen Campus: WUR generated a total of 1,344,939 kilos of waste in 2022 during the months of February to December. Half of this is residual waste and half of that could have been recycled. Tissues used to dry hands in the lavatories form the largest share of the residual waste. Plenty of room for improvement!

Moreover, lab plastics, cool packs and lab gloves are not currently recycled. Focco Ottens of PreZero and Rachel Looijenga of Witteveen+Bos explain how this was analysed. Over the past year, they have been researching waste streams at WUR buildings on Wageningen Campus. In cooperation with WUR, they are working in a project called Material Flow Management. The project aims to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in the use of (non-organic) resources on the campus by 2030, using data from 2019 as a baseline. ‘The R-strategy is a great way to achieve results’, says Rachel: ‘refuse is better than reduce, and reuse is better than recycle.’

The (t)issues

Witteveen+Bos and PreZero conducted additional research on the issue of the tissues. How could this waste stream be reduced? Their advice: use electric hand dryers. ‘We compared the environmental impact and the amount of waste generated by electric hand dryers, towels on a roll and the current system of separate tissues. Towels on a roll result in far less waste but need to be laundered at high temperatures. The energy consumption of an electric dryer is less than the relatively high energy consumption of washing towels’, Rachel explains. The audience suggests recycling the tissues that are currently used or opting for compostable tissues.

The parties will continue to gather data on waste in the WUR buildings on the campus for the next decade. They will also continue to make this data visible in order to reduce raw material use. ‘We aim to formulate future scenarios by gathering lots of high-quality data. To do so, we developed the MFM data model. We call on everyone who has good ideas to come forward. For example, on how to reduce lab plastics waste.’

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The energy consumption of a fume cupboard

Wouter van Leeuwen, energy coordinator at WUR, continues the discussion and elaborates on the energy consumption in laboratories: ‘We have data on energy consumption. In 2022, 5,800,000 m3 of natural gas and 56,200,000 kWh of electricity were used on Wageningen Campus. This equals 17,700 trips around the world by car, or 1.9 million fully charged Tesla Model 3 batteries.’

Wouter adds: ‘Cooling, ventilation, heating and process energy are responsible for large chunks of our energy usage.’ The Helix building serves as an example. This building is responsible for four per cent of WUR’s total energy consumption. Thirty-five per cent of the building’s floor space (consisting of laboratories) uses up 83 per cent of the building’s energy. Most of this energy consumption, 42%, falls within the category “miscellaneous”, which covers computers and other appliances. The next category is ventilation, which is good for 25%.

Van Leeuwen underscores the considerable energy consumption of lab equipment. ‘A drying kiln costs 20,000 kWh each year, the same as the consumption of eight households per year. A fume cupboard uses up to 72,000 depending on whether the pane is closed. That is something really worth doing.’

What can we do ourselves?

Van Leeuwen says: ‘A 60% reduction in energy consumption has been achieved since 2005. Buildings have been improved, heating has been reduced and solar energy is generated on the roofs of WUR buildings in Wageningen and elsewhere in the country. About ten per cent of all the energy WUR uses is generated through solar energy.’ How could that percentage be increased? The audience suggests a solar park. ‘The roofs of WUR buildings at Wageningen Campus on which there are currently no panels, are generally less suitable for this,’ Van Leeuwen responds, ‘because solar panels are too heavy for the roof or there is already other equipment on the roof.’ By being aware of the biggest energy consumers, cooling and ventilation, heating and process energy, even more gains can be made’. Wouter concludes by offering several tips, such as shutting down appliances rather than using standby mode.

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LEAF improves the sustainability and efficiency of laboratories

As mentioned, lab equipment takes up a significant share of energy consumption. In addition, lab work also involves many materials. Joke Luttik, Sustainability Expert at WUR, is therefore very enthusiastic about LEAF and the opportunities and insights this programme offers. LEAF stands for Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework. The programme at WUR is still in the start-up phase, but colleagues are already enthusiastic. 'We take a very practical look at how we can stimulate sustainability, particularly in our laboratories. We focus less on material and energy use. Lab work is important, but we should also consider the environmental impact. We see there are concerns about the sustainability in labs. I regularly hear people comment that “so much plastic is used” in labs.'

LEAF published an online tool that guides the user towards sustainable actions, as well as a toolkit and manuals. There is also a calculating tool that calculates a lab’s footprint and monitors progress. Moreover, LEAF offers workshops. ‘It is important to know who is doing what to make a lab more sustainable and to collaborate with them.’ Interested to join or do you want to know more? Please contact us!

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Synergie @ Campus Connect

During the concluding drinks, a valuable connection was established between Focco Ottens of PreZero and LEAF. ‘If you want to obtain a LEAF certificate, you need to separate your waste or recycle,’ says Ottens. ‘Therefore, the two presentations have a shared goal with which we can help each other.’

Many different leads

One audience member, a WUR employee, is disappointed by the speed at which WUR is becoming more sustainable. ‘You would expect Wageningen, as a university, to be in the lead. We are still working on separating waste. I expected more. But the fact that this event reports on the current status is great. Everyone talking about it results in many different leads.’