• The Innovate Manchester programme has accelerated ongoing collaboration to reach sustainable solutions for the future
  • Chiesi, an Italian pharmaceutical compant and Dsposal, a smart waste software provider who are both based in Manchester, collaborated to resolve Chiesi's issue of inhalers being disposed of into landfill
  • They are currently piloting an inhaler recycling scheme, the results will be evaluated and shared with relevant stakeholders for consideration and to assess the feasibility of upscaling

The idea that to innovate, you have to collaborate has become an article of faith in the 21st century global economy. As we move through a period of intense change driven by advances in digital technology and concerns over our collective impact on the environment, there’s a sense that the most valuable and disruptive ideas can be hatched by small and medium-sized organisations working in partnership with bigger players. The former is more likely to be able to challenge received wisdoms and approach challenges with fresh thinking; the latter has the established route to market and industry networks and knowhow. Collaboration brings it all together.

During 2020 and 2021, to this end, a series of unique and pioneering events took place in Greater Manchester.  The programme – Innovate Manchester – consisted of a series of open access webinars featuring expert panel discussions, followed by focused Innovation Labs, where specific challenges were workshopped. Innovate Manchester was created by MIDAS and GC Business Growth Hub, part of the Growth Company, and curated and delivered by FutureEverything, with part-funding provided by the European Regional Development Fund.

In this case study, we show how Innovate Manchester initiated and helped accelerate ongoing collaboration between the Italian pharmaceutical company Chiesi Farmaceutici S.p.A. which has over 400 people based in their UK affiliate, located in Heald Green, and the smart waste software provider Dsposal, which is also based in Manchester.

The Opportunity

Chiesi came with a compelling challenge: over 70 million inhalers are used in the UK every year to treat respiratory conditions, of which most will be disposed of as household domestic waste.

The majority of inhalers are made from plastic casings and some contain an aluminium canister and fluorinated gas propellant. As there is no separation process for an inhaler’s components at municipal waste processing plants, all the device’s constituent parts often end up in landfill sites. Not only does this constitute a significant amount of waste material, but the propellant that remains in some inhalers can leak into the atmosphere.

Chiesi is committed to reducing the environmental impact of its products and supply chain - and one of its key objectives is to avoid inhaler devices being consigned to landfill. To this end, Chiesi decided to explore how the waste processing system could be managed in order to capture and recycle the inhaler’s component parts after it has been thrown away. The Innovate Manchester event was the ideal opportunity to share the challenge and draw on the expertise of a wider circle of businesses that Chiesi otherwise wouldn’t have engaged with.

One of the SMEs in attendance that took up the challenge was Dsposal. Chiesi’s problem resonated with the SME, as not only does it specialise in modernising waste processes and circular economy service design, but its team have a lot of combined expertise in pharmaceuticals, the healthcare sector and supply chains. This combination of skills and experience meant that Dsposal was uniquely well-placed to work on the issue at hand.

The Collaborators


Chiesi Limited is the UK affiliate of the Italian, family-owned pharmaceutical company, Chiesi Farmaceutici S.p.A. It has been developing innovative medicines to treat respiratory diseases for more than 30 years and has grown to become one of the leading suppliers of treatments for respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This work includes the research and development of many of the inhalers used to treat such conditions.

In addition, Chiesi also researches and develops medicines for cystic fibrosis, neonatology and rare diseases. It is committed to improving patient adherence, patient choice, clinical efficacy and safety and developing sustainable solutions for the future.

In June 2019, Chiesi became the largest global pharmaceutical group in the world to receive the B Corp certification, in recognition of meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. The company’s commitment to reducing the impact on the environment and using the business as a force for good was the impetus to pursue this challenge.

Prior to its participation in the Innovate Manchester – Changing The Way We Produce and Consume, Chiesi commissioned a survey of patients to seek their views on the current arrangements for disposing of inhalers. The findings of the survey indicated that patients would very much welcome a disposal scheme that was easy to be part of.  The project with Dsposal is the first of its type where Chiesi has collaborated with an SME.


Since 2016, Dsposal has been building the next generation of waste compliance software designed to help waste managers and waste producers ensure that all materials are being processed legally, safely and sustainably. To achieve this, Dsposal creates digital systems that provide real-time overviews of waste supply chains, providing valuable data and a transparent picture of this aspect of a business’ operations.

The inventive nature of Dsposal’s offering was highlighted recently when its COO and co-founder Sophie Walker was presented with an Innovate UK Women in Innovation 2020-2021 Award. Sophie presented at the first webinar in the Innovate Manchester series, Changing The Way We Produce And Consume, and this triggered an interest in taking part in the follow-up Innovation Lab.

A team led by Professor Michael Shaver at the University of Manchester’s Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub at the Henry Royce Institute supported the project in an advisory capacity to Dsposal.

Meeting the Challenge

The Innovate Manchester programme included an immersive, two-day Innovation Lab. This virtual workshop was led by FutureEverything, an organisation focused on kickstarting conversations and co-designing the future of digital culture. Several large companies presented challenges to SMEs from Greater Manchester. The participants were divided into breakout groups based on the most relevant topic as well as specific areas of expertise.

During the first part of the breakout session that followed, the challenge was unpicked to ensure that everyone understood the issues and potential barriers. Next, the attendees openly talked through the problem and raised possible solutions, being encouraged to think creatively. In the workshop’s final phase a selection of ideas were tested to assess how realistic and feasible they would be as part of a design sprint.

During this process, Dsposal got to grips with the question posed by Chiesi’s Head of Public Affairs, Harriet Lewis, and worked through how waste management software and behaviour change campaigns could be utilised. Being embedded in the waste industry, Dsposal was able to advise on how the sector operates and the obstacles that would need to be overcome.

Dsposal considered the problem as part of the bigger system – and how changes to one aspect of the waste system will impact others, helping to ensure that the eventual solution would be fit for purpose.

The workshop concluded with consultants at MIDAS and GC Business Growth Hub setting up follow-up sessions between the businesses. Chiesi and Dsposal wanted to continue the collaboration. Teams from both businesses soon met to further explore the ideas that had been raised and take steps to progress them.


Innovate Manchester produced a wealth of new connections and pathways to innovation and collaboration between people and businesses that might not otherwise have had the chance to engage. The process brought together SMEs and large corporates in a structured, efficient and creative way to solve real world commercial challenges.

From Chiesi’s perspective, the open forum format of the virtual event supported seeing the problem from a new perspective and unlocking ideas and approaches that they would not have considered. It soon became apparent that Dsposal was an ideal partner to collaborate with, as its team was very knowledgeable about the waste industry and were clearly enthusiastic about working with the business to tackle the challenge. Chiesi was confident that Dsposal’s team could deliver on the ideas discussed and was impressed by its ability to help navigate the complexities of waste regulation. 

Similarly, Dsposal recognised that Chiesi is a large business and B Corp® that is genuine about its desire to become more sustainable and to work hard to minimise its environmental impact. At an early stage it became apparent to Dsposal that the nature of Chiesi’s work and the challenge was very well suited to its own expertise and that they shared a keen focus on sustainability.

Positive Outcomes

The inhaler recycling challenge discussed at the workshop has now been developed into a ‘proof of concept’ scheme and is currently being piloted in Leicestershire. The scheme was launched in January 2021 and will run for 12 months, at the end of which the results will be evaluated and shared with relevant stakeholders for consideration and to assess the feasibility of upscaling.

The connection built between Dsposal and Chiesi through the Innovate Manchester programme has grown into a strong working relationship. Since the Innovation Lab, the two businesses have developed an opportunity with Innovate UK and an additional Manchester based SME, Reply, on a human-centred research project around designing sustainable plastic solutions.

Dsposal’s ability to look at people’s behaviours around waste has been an important aspect of helping Chiesi understand how inhalers are used and how people feel about them. This has highlighted a number of opportunities to make the devices more environmentally friendly by rethinking how they’re designed, operated and disposed of when no longer needed or usable.

At a cultural level, being exposed to Dsposal’s insights expanded Chiesi’s thinking and its appetite to tackle a challenge it had previously believed was too difficult to overcome.

For Dsposal, a key learning has been that, aside from its software development capabilities, its institutional knowledge of the waste industry is a key asset that has value for other businesses. This awareness of how its in-depth understanding of supply chains and waste management, combined with a systemic problem-solving approach, can support other organisations in their circular economy or sustainability ambitions and has encouraged it to engage in similar collaborative projects.

Moving forward, Chiesi is willing to explore new avenues with Dsposal to further improve the sustainability of inhalers and both businesses are looking forward to an effective long term collaboration. Chiesi is particularly aware that navigating the waste and medicines regulations remains a difficulty for pharmaceutical companies and having an established relationship with an expert SME in this area will be highly advantageous.

A Chiesi spokesperson said:

“ Being part of the Innovate Manchester programme created the impetus for our business to progress with our initiative. The exercise with the team and our relationship with Dsposal has been an extremely positive experience enabling us to accelerate our plans for inhaler recycling which is a key component of our B-Corp programme in the UK.”

Sophie Walker, founder of Dsposal, commented:

“ The opportunity that was unlocked through the Innovate Manchester programme has been really beneficial for Dsposal. It established a productive relationship with Chiesi, laid the foundations for our successful Innovate UK bid and opened our eyes to a whole new revenue stream. It’s been brilliant.”

Take a look at the other Innovate Manchester thought pieces here:

SMEs looking to access specialist support can visit www.businessgrowthhub.com for information about GC Business Growth Hub’s extensive range of services.

Innovate Manchester is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2020 as part of the GC Business Growth Hub Innovation Programme




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