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‘Greener’ Options and Approaches to Lab Waste Management

With environmental concerns top of mind, new approaches and initiatives are helping laboratories manage waste more efficiently

Aimee O’Driscoll

The nature of their work means that many laboratories produce vast amounts of waste. In particular, the increased use of single-use plastics including personal protective equipment (PPE) in laboratory applications has contributed to a significant waste management problem. According to Namrata Jain, marketing consultant at My Green Lab, “It is estimated that every year the plastic waste alone from labs could cover an area 23 times the size of Manhattan, ankle-deep.”

There is often a compromise between making processes safer and more efficient, and creating less waste. This does not go unnoticed, and thankfully, many organizations are striving to improve the situation. 

New takes on traditional green approaches to waste management

Reduce, reuse, and recycle are commonly touted as the most logical solutions to waste management. Indeed, these continue to be prominent in modern options, but there are newer approaches to these solutions.

When it comes to reducing waste production, My Green Lab encourages managers to actively seek collaborative alternatives instead of accepting the status quo. One option is to work with suppliers to find alternatives to products that create excess waste. Another is to consult with personnel to determine if single-use items are really necessary or if they could be replaced with reusable alternatives.

Employing solutions that reduce packaging and shipping—for example, consolidated ordering between departments—can also save a lot of waste. Better inventory management practices can lower refuse levels (as fewer out-of-date items are discarded) as well as offer cost savings.

Collaborative initiatives can be applied to the reuse channel of waste management, too. Strategies to boost reuse include reusing packaging internally or donating supplies to local organizations such as schools or colleges.

Recycling programs help in the fight against waste

Recycling is a hot topic when it comes to lab waste. Part of the issue is often lack of awareness of proper recycling methods and the options available. For example, many lab personnel don’t realize that it’s possible to recycle nitrile gloves, solvents, and many consumables. Until fairly recently, another issue was that even though certain items could be recycled, many waste facilities would not accept them. 

PPE is one area that is often poorly managed. Mayur Valanju, Kimberly-Clark Professional's vice president of Product Development & Innovation, notes that due to the difficulty in recycling single-use plastics, tension can be created within organizations with waste reduction goals.

Kimberly-Clark Professional aims to alleviate this problem through its RightCycle™ program, an initiative that sees the collection and recycling of single-use PPE. The program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Since 2011, more than 800 customers in the US and Europe have diverted more than 1,400 metric tons of waste.

Other companies are helping to tackle waste, too. Take-back programs such as Corning’s packaging program and Millipore Sigma’s styrofoam container take-back scheme ensure that packaging is reused or recycled.