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Simple Steps for More Sustainable Lab Water Purification

Regularly maintaining purifiers is essential to sustainable water purification

by
Tess Van Ee

Tess Van Ee is a Minneapolis-based freelance medical and science writer. She has spent over eleven years writing about a kaleidoscope of topics, from industrial ovens that cure solar panel...

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Achieving the ultrapure water that lab applications require takes energy and resources. As environmental concerns rise worldwide, considering how to optimize the sustainability of purified water use in labs is an increasing priority. Here are some simple steps for stewarding purified water in any lab: 

Make the most of each water grade

Different lab applications require different grades, or types, of purified water. Type 1 water, ultrapure water, goes through multiple resource-intensive processes in preparation for lab use. For example, it takes three gallons of water to make just one gallon of deionized water, which is only a single step in the purification process.1

Choosing the lowest, least processed water type needed for each task will make the lab more sustainable and cost-effective. Ultrapure water is necessary for most lab applications, such as mass spectrometry, chromatography, and proteomics. Purified water, type 2, works well for prepping buffers and media. Type 3 water (typically achieved through reverse osmosis) can feed water to a type 1 system, and type 4 water (filtered water) works well for rinsing glassware and use in autoclave machines.2

Opting to use lower grades of water for basic lab operations is not only a greener choice but also more practical, as ultrapure water can corrode equipment and labware.  

Stewarding equipment and potable water 

Regularly maintaining lab water purification systems is more sustainable than buying new ones whenever issues arise. This is because the upstream activities of creating new equipment—from mining resources to manufacturing and shipping parts—produce the greenhouse gases that impact climate change.3

Choosing the lowest, least processed water type needed for each task will make the lab more sustainable and cost-effective.

Regular maintenance also helps ensure equipment operates at its best and does not leak or waste energy. Installing low-flow aerators on faucets and regularly checking pipes for leaks help reduce a lab’s overall water use.  

Buying with a (greener) future in mind 

When the time comes to buy a new water purification system, practical choices, like considering a system that uses less energy and doesn’t exceed a lab’s needs, align with sustainability goals. Energy-efficient systems will cost less in utilities over time in addition to being better for the environment.4

Although buying a system that exceeds a lab’s daily water use ensures enough purified water is always available, purifying more water than is necessary is not good for budgets or the planet. Considering a system that works with long-life cartridges (or buying long-life cartridges for an existing system) is also a sustainable choice. Using fewer cartridges means less will ultimately be buried in landfills. Requesting electronic manuals instead of paper with a new system is another simple step toward a greener lab practice. 

Strong chemicals, necessary for some types of water purification, can have an impact on the environment if handled and disposed of incorrectly. Verify new systems follow the rules from regulatory agencies, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, about the usage, storage, and disposal of strong chemicals.5

Lab water purification is essential but doesn’t have to be unsustainable. Carefully planning the use of water grades, maintaining purification equipment, and buying with sustainability in mind can make lab water purification practices more environmentally friendly. 

References: 

1.    “Water.” https://www.mygreenlab.org/water.html. Accessed June 8, 2023. 

2.    “Laboratory Water: Its Importance and Application.” https://orf.od.nih.gov/TechnicalResources/Documents/DTR%20White%20Papers/Laboratory%20Water-Its%20Importance%20and%20Application-March-2013_508.pdf. Accessed June 8, 2023.

3.    “Top 9 Actions to Take in the Lab to Improve Water Efficiency.” https://www.mygreenlab.org/blog-beaker/top-9-actions-to-take-in-the-lab-to-improve-water-efficiency. Accessed June 15, 2023. 

4.    “Water Efficiency Guide for Laboratories: Laboratories for the 21st Century.” https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy05osti/36743.pdf. Accessed June 8, 2023.

5.    “How to Select the Right Water Purification System for Your Lab.” https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/US/en/technical-documents/technical-article/analytical-chemistry/small-molecule-hplc/selecting-the-right-water-purification-system. Accessed June 16, 2023.