circular purchasing process of lab coats at the KUL
KULeuven students who need a lab coat for their studies currently have to buy one themselves. The possibilities for the purchase of such a lab coat are very diverse and differ for each faculty, e.g. via the course service of the student association or at a local bookstore (Acco). There is no central selling point for new or second-hand lab coats yet.
Through this project, KU Leuven would like to start up a more sustainable, circular system. First of all, we are looking for a safe, circular lab coat of high quality that can withstand numerous washings. To ensure that the circular coats are used as long as possible, we also want to set up a second-hand circuit of lab coats within the KU Leuven, in addition to facilitating the sale of new coats.
The negotiations with our supplier gave us great insight into the possibilities of circular fabrics for lab coats. However, in order to meet our requirements, they have to start an innovation process that requires too much of us.
We mapped out the purchase of lab coats: some are purchased from Acco, the majority through the student circles' course service. Acco is willing to switch to a more durable coat, but the course service is still bound by current contracts.
In order to set up a second-hand cycle for the student lab coats, it was agreed with the Green Office of the KU Leuven that the student groups would organise the collection themselves. Discussions with the student groups are still ongoing.
We have set up a collection campaign for discarded coats and work clothing of staff. Clothing that is still usable is collected for reuse; damaged or worn out clothing is recycled into insulating material by the company Prosafco.
MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED
It is not easy to find a suitable sustainable lab coat. Because the market is still searching and does not want to take any risks, our supplier expects a (too) large purchase commitment from us. Additional negotiations, also with other suppliers, will be necessary.
From conversations with students it appears that there is interest in a more durable lab coat, on the condition that it is only slightly more expensive than the current coat. Course services also have the task of offering courses and study materials to students as cheaply as possible.
Course services are currently still tied to current contracts, which means they cannot yet switch to a new, more sustainable jacket. We hope to meet again next academic year for a new proposal.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Combining safety criteria and circularity in the search for a sustainable lab coat does not appear to be evident. Additional negotiations, also with other suppliers, will be necessary.
With regard to the sale of a more sustainable lab coat, the course services are currently still bound by current contracts. We will enter into talks again later to work out a new proposal.
Also, centrally setting up a second-hand circuit for lab coats is not possible because the courses of the KU Leuven are too spread out over various locations in Flanders. That is why we asked the course leaders of the various student circles to organise something themselves. Students do like the idea, but need extra support to organise a second-hand sale effectively.
For discarded lab coats and staff work clothes, a contract was made with a company that processes the textiles into insulation material. After the first large collection campaign, we plan to use the same channel to collect discarded lab coats from students.