Striving for peace and prosperity for people and the planet calls for more than a lone warrior in a sandbox. It calls on collaboration across sectors and countries. When organizations collaborate, they not only create value for themselves but also for other stakeholders. This includes stakeholders that are not directly involved in the partnership.

Piloting circularity in healthcare

Every year, Novo Nordisk produces and distributes 500 million insulin pens to diabetics across the world. After use, most of them end up as waste. Returpen aims to put an end to this, and to bring circularity to the healthcare ecosystem.

From December 2020 to June 1st 2021, Returpen was piloted in three municipalities in Denmark, offering a sustainable way for diabetics to discard their used insulin pens. The Novo Nordisk insulin pens are produced with high-quality glass and plastic that can be recycled and get new life. 

What’s more, the possibility of recycling other types of medical waste is currently being investigated.

Collaboration in the healthcare ecosystem

Returpen is the result of a collaboration across the healthcare ecosystem; Novo Nordisk (pharmaceutical company) teamed up with governmental bodies, healthcare providers, and diabetes and pharmaceutical associations to create positive impact on the environment.

The Returpen project is an example of an integrative partnership. Here, partners align their missions, strategies, values, and activities to achieve the priority goal of creating social impact.

In this collaboration, the partners have gone beyond sharing generic resources and developed a memorandum of understanding where they agree to join forces to enable the circularity of diabetes pens.

How and where Returpen is creating value

Returpen integrative partnership

We have mapped out the partnership using our Business Model Toolkit, to shed some light on how the organization and all the stakeholders (including patients, governments, and nonprofits) relate to each other, and how they manifest their value exchange. This is how Returpen is bringing circularity into healthcare.

Do you want to understand how our business model toolkit works and download your free version? Get it here.


In this partnership, there are two main streams, formed by different stakeholders

Advocacy & care

Facilitated by governmental institutions, Novo Nordisk reaches diabetes patients through other parties like diabetes associations and medical centres, that are spreading the word about the new service. At the same time, wholesalers and distributors are assisting pharmacies in the delivery of new products and the collection of used insulin pens for recycling. 


The involvement of the patients in the process is key for the success of Returpen.

Circularity and new product’s eol

The used pens go directly to KMG – the waste management partner. KMG takes care of the processing and recycling process of the materials. Later, the recycled scraps are sold to design companies that manufacture new consumer goods. In doing so, the Returpen project enables a new life for Novo Nordisk’s pens, reducing the pressure of bigger waste streams.

Scaling and creating systemic change

Novo Nordisk envisions a more sustainable healthcare ecosystem. They are leading by example by validating the possibility of a new and greener approach to healthcare offerings. 

But how can a pilot scale and turn into systemic changes? We imagined what it might look like, if the partnership turned into a transformative partnership by creating a separate Returpen organization.

Involving corporates for scale

Returpen has the potential to scale up by involving other corporates to rethink, redesign and collect their health products back so materials can be recycled and used again to manufacture new products, ensuring that the loop remains closed. 

Involving caregivers

Returpen can become a leader in the healthcare ecosystem by involving medical centers, pharmacies, and other players, to inform the patients and provide them with environmentally-friendly care and treatment solutions.

Involving NGO's

Returpen can provide NGO’ss with a platform to partner with corporates on transformational impact. Moreover, the NGO’s will have the opportunity to invest their resources in pilots that contribute to their missions. 

Health battlegrounds Mockup
Learn more about impact partnerships

Check out our new comprehensive guide to creating business-nonprofit partnerships that drive change. Tools, examples, and tips to get you started.