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One of the most impactful things a lab can do to reduce it’s environmental footprint is to get a handle on its waste streams. Knowing how to correctly dispose of the most common lab items can help to reduce the overall amount of waste going to landfill or incineration. The general rule of thumb with lab plastics, both hard plastics and soft plastics, is to clean them well, ensure they are dry and separate from any other materials before recycling them.
In Ireland the average person consumes approximately 59kgs of plastic per year, while the average bench scientist consumes approximately 1,000kg. Since the COVID pandemic single-use plastics have become even more common in labs, however one of the most impactful things your lab can do to reduce its environmental footprint is to reduce your reliance on single-use plastic and correctly segregate dispose of all your waste.
The most important thing to remember when recycling correctly is for all plastics to be CLEAN, DRY and LOOSE. Important to separate all plastic items i.e., remove soft plastic coverings from hard plastic containers etc. The key things to consider is recycling plastic should be the last option.
First, we must reduce our usage of plastics in the lab where possible. Swapping plastics for glass is one way to do this, using non plastic items such as cardboard or bioplastics where possible. Then we must consider reusing plastic materials, such as pipette tip boxes. Many companies now offer the ability to only purchase pipette tip refills and keep using the boxes. Carefully considering which suppliers we purchase from can also make a large impact. Continuously requesting suppliers do more to reduce their impact such as taking back plastics, using less packaging in their deliveries etc., is an effective way to highlight sustainability is a priority in your lab. The final option is to recycle the plastic.
For non-plastic waste such as electronic waste (for example old computers, wires/cables and broken equipment), this should be kept separated and recycled at e-waste recycling points.
To minimise hazardous and chemical waste, the concept of Green Chemistry should be applied to all research in labs. See here for link to Green Chemistry. PowerPoint Presentation (ucl.ac.uk)
See here for recycling information posters and bin signage click here
For more detailed information please see the UCC Green Labs Guide UCC Green Labs Guide