Lab supplies lie at the heart of the daily workflows that power scientific progress. Successful outcomes and more sustainable practices in the lab depend on high-quality, reliable supplies designed for minimal environmental impact, especially for single-use plastics. While cost is often a deciding factor for lab supply purchases, lower quality or inconsistent supplies increase the risk of needing to repeat work. This leads to higher costs in the form of materials, staff-hours, and potential loss of valuable samples. High quality and consistency in lab essentials increase confidence in repeatable results, while supply assurance helps avoid disruption to lab operations.
Labs can help ensure smooth operations and optimal productivity by working with a life sciences supplier dedicated to quality, sustainability, and assurance with the expertise to assist with every stage from application questions to scale-up and lab optimization.
Quality is key
The ultimate goal in any lab is producing accurate and reproducible results. This makes the quality and reliability of lab supplies a top priority. Accuracy is reduced by substandard quality of materials and manufacture, inadequate quality control, and insufficient sterilization protocols, resulting in imprecise construction, contaminants, and variability. Sample integrity can be compromised by contaminants like RNase or DNase, nucleotides, or difficult-to-detect leachables or extractables.
Ensuring that the research team is using only dependable, high-quality supplies minimizes the likelihood that experiments will need to be repeated, which benefits the environment, the results, and the bottom line.
Lab supplies can make an impact on sustainability
Single-use plastics help ensure sterility and reduce contamination risk but generate considerable waste. Though scientists represent just 0.1 percent of the population, labs produce two percent of global plastic waste. Luckily, multiple supply-related considerations can simultaneously benefit research and the environment.
Labs can take several direct actions to reduce consumption and improve sustainability, including:
- Scale up to increase production efficiency. For example, multi-level cell culture flasks in place of multiple individual flasks can reduce plastic waste considerably by increasing production output with less material.
- Reduce or eliminate repeated work. Most tools and equipment have very specific tolerances. Understanding and working within those tolerances, validating supplies for specific use cases, and only using high-quality supplies reduces the likelihood of efforts needing to be repeated.
- Conduct a waste audit. What contributes the most waste in your lab? The answers can be surprising and will indicate where initial efforts will have the greatest impact.
- Buy in bulk. Bulk purchases are one way to reduce packaging and emissions. Organizing purchases accordingly can have a large impact and offer time savings as well. You may be able to further reduce packaging by working with your supplier.
Read on to learn more about ways to improve lab’s sustainability.
The greatest potential for environmental impact, however, comes with partnerships that address the production and waste management stages. For a more complete view of lab sustainability, labs must look to their supply chain and work with companies who have a strong commitment to environment, social, and governance (ESG) and sustainability initiatives. Manufacturing facilities should adopt best practices, for example, by following environmental management system requirements set by international standard ISO 14001. Manufacturers who prioritize sustainability will also incorporate sustainability goals in innovative product design that reduces the amount of plastic per unit without compromising quality and reliability.
Lifecycle analysis of single-use polystyrene plastics shows that most emissions occur with conversion of fossil fuels into resin and incineration. Adopting a circular ecosystem that diverts waste from landfills through recycling, refurbishing, reusing, or maintaining products offers the most effective approach for reducing emissions on both fronts.
While recycling often dominates conversations on responsible waste management, the reality is complex. Not all lab waste can be recycled due to contamination with hazardous materials, and much of what is recyclable in theory is not in practice because of processing constraints or other complications. For example, lack of appropriate infrastructure to process particular types of plastics, contamination, particularly with inhibitors or catalysts to the recycling processes, and associated costs can send “recycled” plastics to landfills. Chemistry and composition of plastics determine the appropriate recycling process, but unknown variability even within types can prevent the successful reclamation of materials. These issues can be circumvented by recycling materials with known formulations in bulk, which can be facilitated through a manufacturer with a “take back” program. Seeking partners who support these programs while leveraging multiple circular lifecycle opportunities can have the greatest impact on both waste reduction and raw material conversion.
Assurance reduces the risk of supply chain interruption
Labs need a reliable source of supplies to avoid operational disruptions. Recent global events placed unprecedented strain on supply chains, emphasizing this need. The rapid acceleration of COVID-19 related science—including diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines—along with rapid growth in life science industry sectors like bioproduction led to a global rise in demand of around 200-1,000 percent for critical supplies. Combined with raw material shortages, freight service disruptions, and competing government directives, the disruptions reached crisis levels that highlighted the need for more robust supply chains.
While it’s impossible to predict every potential event or stressor, the likelihood of future disruptions can be reduced by working with manufacturers who have demonstrated flexibility and adaptability. Companies who responded quickly to early pandemic pressures by increasing production capacity and improving stability will be better situated, and more likely to take additional action, to meet future challenges.
Product and application expertise accelerates decisions
Continuous technological innovations, particularly in life science fields, have created an immense diversity of products that are often highly specialized to applications. Optimizing lab processes and throughput involves identifying the best-suited materials and methods for a particular application. This can be a daunting task given the number of experimental and product details to be considered. For example, collagen is a common component of cell culture substrates offering structural and mechanical support. Selecting the appropriate type of collagen along with the best format, surface application, and protocol depends on the cell type, culture conditions, and needs.
Combined product and application expertise is invaluable in guiding these choices, especially when changing or setting up new workflows. Application scientists with a manufacturer can answer application and compatibility questions or assist with troubleshooting problems. Their guidance can help labs meet challenging research and production goals through optimization, increasing workflow and process efficiencies, improving cell viability, and boosting yields. They can also assist in scaling processes for smoother transitions.
The challenge of choosing the right supplier
Scientific progress depends on the quality and availability of lab supplies that are used every day. Finding a manufacturing partner who is capable of supporting the lab’s goals is worth the time and effort.
Corning Life Sciences, partnering with the scientific community since 1915, has the experience and expertise to help labs with core research, process development, or full-scale production. Their scientists, PhD field applications specialists, and support specialists can assist labs in rapidly evolving subject areas like 3D cell culture, cell therapy, and drug screening.
Commitment to quality requires a proactive, preventative approach with continuous improvement in processes, products, and services. This is achieved through robust quality management systems with high sterilization standards, evidenced by accessible quality certifications, and continued investment in expanding and enhancing operations. Corning has increased manufacturing capacity, implemented in-house sterilization, and streamlined global distribution to meet greater demand, shorten lead times, and strengthen supply assurance respectively. They’ve also prioritized critical products to help ensure availability in future times of crisis.
Sustainability forms a central pillar at Corning and is prioritized in product design within the context of continuous ESG improvements, including focus on circularity, plastic material reduction, and use of renewable energies.
The commitment to never stop learning, growing, investing, and improving sets the foundation for enduring partnerships through the many challenges that research labs face. Ensuring that supplies are up to quality, arrive when expected, and come with a guarantee of assistance is the way to success.
Discover why you can count on Corning by visiting The Corning Advantage.