Simple Ways To Make Your Lab More Eco-Friendly
As we all know, recycling is an essential way to preserve our future. Recycling mindfully decreases the damage we do to the natural world and protects our environment. If you’re reading this, you probably work in biology, medicine, or another related field — and as life scientists, we know how important it is to preserve life on Earth. After all, that’s what we do!
Unfortunately, some scientists think that recycling is not as important in the lab as it is at home. In fact, it’s even more so. And you’ll be happy to hear that even a few simple changes can have a significant impact on reducing your environmental footprint. So, why not start today? We spend half of our time at work, which means working to make our labs better, more conscious places can make a big difference in the world.
A few simple changes for a greener lab
I started my job as lab manager a year and a half ago, and I quickly realized there was a lot we could do better. With the help of my PI, we decided to change our philosophy and focus on creating a sustainable lab environment. But, where to start?
We found that you can make a big difference by simply adopting a few good habits, such as buying a blue recycling bin (though any big container would do) for your paper, aluminium and plastic recyclables in the wet lab area, and recycling all cardboard and Styrofoam shipping containers (you’ll need to check to see if these are recyclable in your area). Another impactful and simple habit is to make sure you turn off any equipment and lights when they’re not in use, as well as carefully tightening water taps.
Recycling and energy-saving have become part of our lab philosophy, and we ask everyone on our team to follow a set of simple rules which also follow the Environmental Health and Safety regulations.
Reducing single-use plastic in the lab
One big problem for many labs is the excessive amount of plastic associated with our research supplies. If you really stop to think about it, it’s shocking. Sometimes, when you find you disagree with something in the world around you, it pushes you to reconsider your own behaviour. That’s when I decided, for example, to safely reuse some items. for example:
- Conical tubes and plastic bottles can be washed and reused as containers for non-sterile liquids or buffers
- If you use serological pipettes to measure small non-sterile volumes, you may want to use the ones sold in bulk and not individually wrapped
- When you weigh commonly used and non-hazardous chemicals, like agarose or Tris, you can simply write the reagent name on your plastic dish, rinse it and reuse it next time
Just remember that it’s mandatory to follow the Environmental Health and Safety rules – and obviously, no biological and hazardous waste containers should ever be recycled!
What about the tissue culture room?
One part of the lab that’s particularly difficult to make environmentally-friendly is the tissue culture room. In such a controlled area, the amount of single-use non-recycled plastic is massive. As a conscientious eco-leader I thought a lot about this, and reached the conclusion that unfortunately, it has to be this way! However, even there, you can still adopt better habits.
For example, many people think that the media and buffer plastic bottles have to be discarded in the biological waste. However, as long they are not contaminated and have the recycling symbol on them, they can be rinsed and recycled. What’s more, the half-plastic, half-paper wrap of the serological pipettes can be torn apart and the paper can be recycled.
Another good tip is to put your culture dishes and flasks together in order to optimize the space in the incubators. And of course, avoid leaving the biosafety cabinets and incubator doors open.
Eco-friendly lab initiatives
Thanks to non-profits like My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories, some laboratories and whole Universities have started an incredible eco-friendly adventure: The International Laboratory Freezer Challenge! The ultra low-temperature freezers (-80°C) consume a lot of energy, and so do - 20°C freezers and refrigerators too. This friendly competition raised awareness of how much energy could be saved with better management of our cold spaces. Lots of good tips and ideas can be found on their website.
Additionally, more and more biotech companies have “green” programs and are trying to reduce their impact on climate change. When dealing with suppliers, let them know that being eco-friendly is a priority and if you have a choice, try to order from the most environmentally conscious ones.
Health and safety always comes first
Finally, I would like to emphasize that it is essential to properly teach the Environmental Health and Safety rules regarding hazardous waste materials to everyone who works in the lab, from students to scientists! Everything hazardous, toxic or harmful that goes to landfill or the water supply is contributing to polluting our environment and poisoning our drinking water and the soil.
When scientists are made aware of their impact on the environment and are given easy strategies to improve their daily lab behavior, it will have an immediate positive effect. Adopting the right behavior toward biological and chemical waste is the responsibility of everyone in the lab and requires that we all keep each other honest about maintaining these standards.
If you want to learn more about sustainability in both university and private laboratories, you’ll find a lot of great resources online such as mygreenlab.org, i2sl.org, and https://www.colorado.edu/ecenter/greenlabs.
What can you do right now to go greener in the lab?
In our everyday lab lives, we have many opportunities to be green… we just have to think about it and take action! Keep asking yourself: can I reuse or recycle this item instead of sending it to landfill? Is there a better way to do this?
Recycling is easy. It takes very little time, has a positive impact on the environment, and it saves money that can be used to further your research. Are you ready for the challenge?
Anne Vielle joined the CellSight program in the laboratory of Dr Natalia Vergara at the University of Colorado two years ago as a Professional Research Assistant. Working closely with her mentor, Anne’s primary research focus is on using stem cells to study retina development and develop new treatments for retinal degenerative diseases. Anne’s work in the Vergara lab has been instrumental in establishing the underlying research platform necessary to sustainably generate human retinal organoids and applying them to the development of therapeutic strategies in the ambitious search for a cure to blindness. Anne has a natural curiosity and passion for research and is always excited about making the next discovery. Over time, Anne has become naturally an eco-friendly citizen and strongly believes that we need to significantly reduce our human footprint on the climate.
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