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Breathing New Life into Old Lab Equipment

Nearly every piece of equipment has the potential to be recycled, with some help from the experts

Michelle Dotzert, PhD

Michelle Dotzert is the creative services manager for Lab Manager. She holds a PhD in Kinesiology (specializing in exercise biochemistry) from the University of Western Ontario. Her research examined the...

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Recycling is an environmentally friendly way to dispose of lab equipment no longer in use. Depending on the condition of the instrument, maintenance and repair may return an item to manufacturer specifications for resale, or if it is no longer functional, working parts may be salvaged and sold, and the remaining scrap materials recycled.

That being said, there are some limits to consider, and determining which items may and may not be recycled is largely based on safety. Whether preparing a small benchtop centrifuge, or an MR system that requires a dedicated room, decontamination and removal of any hazardous substances is the top priority.

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“Most instruments can be recycled, but those presenting a radiation risk or extreme biological hazards should not be,” explains Dante Boyer, president of The Lab World Group (Woburn, MA). “Certain molds that may have developed can present health problems as well as decontamination problems and may be better off being permanently disposed of.” In addition to biological contaminants, cryogens and radiation must be considered for X-ray, CT, and MR imaging equipment.

“Items we receive from medical facilities and labs must go through a certification process with the state to ensure harmful substances like cryogens have been removed before we pick it up,” says Lou Ramondetta, president of Surplus Service (Fremont, CA). “If a piece of equipment meets the decontamination criteria to be recycled, then the call is really based on the useful life,” explains Boyer.

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Once the equipment is deemed safe for recycling, there’s the matter of transporting it. Depending on the size of the instrument, it may involve scheduling a simple pick up, or a complete deinstallation for larger, more complex systems. Companies have the expertise required to remove and transport all types of equipment. “We act as a turn-key, one-stop solution for our customers,” says Boyer, “Once contacted by customers, we do an initial assessment of the assets along with the logistics of the overall project,” he explains. For larger imaging systems, “We can deinstall CT and MR systems, and carry out all types of transport depending on the customer’s needs, ranging from local pickup in the Bay Area, to white glove service. Depending on the price range and value of the device, we are able to offer different options to get the item to our facility,” says Ramondetta.

Wondering what happens to that equipment when you’ve managed to get it out of the lab? “About 85 percent of what comes into our facility gets repaired, refurbished, and reused,” says Ramondetta. “We have a team that goes through the equipment to evaluate it, and if it’s a piece that goes directly to recycling, we have partners we work with that will recycle metal, plastic, or electronics.” Sometimes when an instrument can’t be repaired, its working parts may hold value. “This usually pertains to higher-end items like mass spectrometers or gas chromatographs. In addition, lasers, mirrors, and filters can be valuable,” explains Boyer. To determine if an instrument is suitable for refurbishment, The Lab World Group uses “traceable NIST tools, ranging from dataloggers, thermometers, tachometers, COanalyzers, etc. to see if items are working to manufacturers’ specifications,” he says.

In light of growing concern over the accumulation of single-use and disposable products, new recycling solutions have emerged. MilliporeSigma’s Biopharma Recycling Program uses a process from waste management company Triumvirate Environmental to recycle “bioreactor, buffer and sampling bags (multilayered films), and assemblies and filters,” says Jacqueline Ignacio, global manager, customer sustainability solutions at MilliporeSigma. “We also often recycle disposable protective gear, such as nitrile gloves, shoe and hair covers, and other items used in the manufacturing suite that are made from plastic materials,” she explains. The program is available to MilliporeSigma’s customers on the east coast of the US and begins with an on-site meeting during which Triumvirate performs a waste assessment. “This assessment helps identify all the products that can be included while outlining the most efficient logistics, containers to be used, and pick-up schedule,” says Ignacio. “Each site has different needs, so many different collection schemes can be developed,” she adds.

Recycling laboratory instruments and single-use products is an excellent way to keep them out of the landfill, and in some cases, repair and refurbishment adds years of functionality for subsequent owners. Recycling services have the expertise to guide the preparation process and aid in removal and transportation, making the “greener” choice an easy one.