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Business supportWomen led research team backed by Innovate UK to improve sustainability of...

Women led research team backed by Innovate UK to improve sustainability of inhalers

An innovative project is underway with a women led consortium from Manchester based SMEs Dsposal and Reply, and global pharmaceutical company Chiesi. The team are researching ways to minimise or eliminate the use of plastic in pressurised metered dose inhalers by redesigning the ‘actuator’. Around 75 million inhalers are prescribed in the UK every year and they have been identified by both the UK Parliament Environmental Audit Committee and the NHS in their drive to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint.

The project has won funding from the ‘Designing sustainable plastic solutions’ competition run by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, along with co-funding from Chiesi, a global pharmaceutical B Corp® certified company and leader in respiratory health.

“Inhalers are a vital, life-saving device for thousands of people but currently they are a ‘throwaway’ item. Research shows there is also quite a lot of stigma around inhaler use, especially among children and teenagers. Using our extensive human centred design experience to redesign the actuator so that it can be more environmentally friendly is the primary aim of this project, but we’re also keen to explore how we might be able to tackle the issue of stigma too,” said Rebecca Rae-Evans, Director at Reply.

“Winning this funding and support from Innovate UK and Chiesi is a huge opportunity for both us and Dsposal. It’s unusual for us to find ourselves on an almost all-woman project team, but it’s fantastic to buck the trend and be an example of women innovating and winning funding.”

Sophie Walker, COO and Co-Founder of Dsposal commented, “We’ve always taken gender balance seriously at Dsposal and wanted to be role models for both the waste and tech sector. It’s a joy to be working with such an incredible, passionate group of women. Our interdisciplinary team brings such a breadth of experience, which is vital as to design more sustainable products we need to take a systemic approach. We’re bringing our circular economy experience and looking at this with stakeholders from along the entire supply chain from the materials manufacturers right through to the waste management companies who deal with these items when they’re discarded. We’re also lucky to get support in the form of materials advice from the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub at the Henry Royce Institute.”

Harriet Lewis, Head of Public Affairs at Chiesi UK added, “At Chiesi, we believe protecting patient health and the environment should not be a matter of compromise. To this end we have invested considerable time and resource in accelerating the development of lower carbon technologies as well as empowering patients to dispose of their inhalers in an environmentally safe manner. Initiating activity to scope alternatives to the current plastic use for all our inhalers is overdue and the start of an important journey for us and the wider pharmaceuticals sector. As a B Corp® certified company, we take our environmental responsibility very seriously and are committed to playing our part in reducing the environmental impact of inhalers. Being part of this research is a critical first step for us and aligns with our broader B Corp® commitments of using our business as a force for good. This initiative is further elevated by the fact that it has been driven – from conception to activation – by an all-female team. On a company level, women make up 54% of the workforce, something we are very proud to celebrate especially as we draw closer to International Women’s Day 2021.”

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