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Going Green in Glassware Washing

Going Green in Glassware Washing

The right device can increase savings, but how it gets used also matters

Mike May, PhD

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas.

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Cleaning glassware with a washer keeps a lab moving forward more efficiently, but other efficiencies also come into play. For one thing, following some expert tips makes the process more environmentally friendly.

The same tips can also save money. The right device can increase savings, but how it gets used also matters. “Laboratory glassware washers can affect the amount of environmental resources used—water, electricity—by the lab, as well as contributing to decreasing the lab’s environmental footprint,” says Joan Wickersheim, assistant director for research and academic safety at the University of Texas, Dallas. Any glassware washer, though, is better than none. “In terms of water conservation,” Wickersheim explains, “glassware washers decrease the amount of water used as compared to hand washing.” So, using a washer is more environmentally friendly, but it’s important to use the right one.

A shopping list

Wickersheim provides a collection of capabilities to consider when shopping for a glassware washer. At the top of her list is a washer’s size and configuration. She says that it “should be large enough and have enough racks to accommodate the many types of glassware [and] utensils in your inventory, and allow for minimal free space when the washer is filled to capacity.”

She also encourages scientists to consider the water usage and energy efficiency of a washer. Plus, it’s important to consider how a washer handles the flow of clean water and wastewater. A user should “ensure that cross contamination cannot occur between clean and dirty water, and that discharged water can be safely released to the sanitary sewer system,” Wickersheim notes.

Download Now: The Lab Glassware Washer Resource Guide

The energy use can also depend on some electronic features. Allison Paradise, CEO and founder of My Green Lab (Los Gatos, CA), endorses buying a glassware washer with a standby mode. “Glassware washers that do not have a standby mode will stay on all the time by default,” she says. “This means that people need to remember to turn them off at night, [and] … we all know how that goes.” Most often, such devices stay on. In addition to a standby mode, a washer should allow the start time of a cycle to be set; the lab can save money by running the washer during nonpeak electricity-usage hours.

The construction of a washer also determines how green it is. “Purchasing washers that have a high percentage of both recycled and recyclable material conserves supply and disposal resources,” Wickersheim says.

Beat the heat

In some cases, just washing glassware is not enough, as it also needs to be sterilized in an autoclave. “A standard autoclave can use more than 60 kilowatts a day and can consume thousands of gallons of water per week,” says Paradise. “In general, it makes sense to purchase sustainable models and to use the most eco-friendly cycles simply to reduce waste.”

Scientists who don’t have the time to search for the greenest device can visit My Green Lab’s ACT—accountability, consistency, and transparency—site (https://act.mygreenlab. org/). This information, says Paradise, “makes it much easier to compare products and find one that is the most sustainable in all aspects, from manufacturing to use to the product’s end of life.” So look for the ACT label.

For washers and autoclaves, the greenest loads are the full ones. “Consolidate loads!” Paradise encourages. “Don’t run a washer or an autoclave for just one item.” When running a full load, make it even greener by choosing the right detergent. “Not all applications require detergent, and when it is required, try to use something with reduced toxicity,” Paradise says.

Scientists must consider several factors to “green” their glassware-washing practices. Everything from the device choice through operation of the device determines the environmental impact.

For additional resources on glassware washers, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit