Utrecht lecturers train pharmacist of the future by making courses more sustainable

Shirley Xie, Eveline Schriemer and Elise Heesbeen. Poto: Harold van de Kamp.

The pharmaceutical sciences could be a lot more sustainable. This is what three lecturers and a Master's student from the Pharmacy programme at Utrecht University realised. Last year, they started a project to make their courses more sustainable. One lab practical has already been made sustainable and the students are enthusiastic. What else is on the agenda?

At the moment, the project group focuses on materials used in lab practicals for the bachelor course 'Behaviour of the drug in the human body'. The pharmacists we train today find themselves in a different world than 50 years ago, and we want to train health care professionals who can operate in that world, says Elise Heesbeen, lecturer in psychopharmacology at Utrecht University and one of the Green Team project leaders. Together with lecturers Linda Silvertand and Christine Hiemstra and Master's student Eveline Schriemer, she started the project a year ago. Meanwhile, research and education assistant Thea Leusink-Muis and master's students Isa van der Werff and Shirley Xie have also joined the project team.

Of course we don't throw away the plastic material, but we don't buy any more new plastic.

Less plastic and paper in practicals

Glass materials - such as pipette tubes and Erlenmeyer flasks – were already being stored in the labs, but not being used. Glass pipettes have three to four times less environmental impact than plastic when used for 30 years, but that glass was just sitting around gathering dust, Heesbeen illustrates. This is now being given a new lease on life; as a result, not many new materials need to be purchased. Of course we don't throw away the plastic material, it is still being used for other practicals, but we don't buy any more new plastic.

The students now also work with less paper during practicals. Lab journals, for which students would print out large pieces of text and photos from microscopes, have been digitised. Paper will never go away completely: of course you have to scribble down a note on paper now and then, and you can't take your laptop with you into every lab, but most of it can be done electronically now, says Heesbeen. Students are enthusiastic, and their input and suggestions are implemented immediately if possible: For example, one student remarked that it was a shame that posters often ended up in the bin after presentations. Now students present their project with a digital poster, or they make a video.

The pharmacist of the future

The project team wants to set an example for other courses. According to the Green Team, coordinators of courses with many practicals could get to work straight away: We hope that the concrete examples from our practical will inspire others to switch to sustainable material alternatives. We are already working to make the practicals in other labs more sustainable by, for example, purchasing lab coats made of sustainable materials instead of the current polyester blends. Courses without practicals are mainly about raising awareness among students of other aspects, such as how to deal with medicine residues in a sustainable way.

On 31 May the Green Team Pharmacy, together with the CO2 assistants (Medicine) and the Green Future Promoters (Biomedical Sciences), will organise a symposium on medicine residues in the environment with speakers from, among others, the RIVM and the Waterschappen. On 19 May, the Green Team will present their results at the Sustainable Research Symposium of Green Labs Netherlands.