By Mia Barnes
If you work in scientific research, you don’t need anyone to explain the essential nature of reducing your environmental footprint. However, lab work often entails handling hazardous materials and gobbling tons of single-use supplies.
How can you make your lab more eco-friendly? While safeguarding against immediate threats to human life proves paramount, the protection of the planet runs a close second. The following five methods can help you care for Mother Earth while performing your research.
1. Improve Chemical and Regulated Medical Waste Disposal Methods
Most laboratories deal with a considerable amount of waste. If you think back to the days when syringes and needles began showing up on New Jersey shores, you immediately recognize the inherent dangers of hazardous materials.
The two types of materials labs must use caution when disposing of include the following:
- Regulated medical waste: These materials consist of biohazard waste — vials once containing human blood, for example — and sharps.
- Chemical waste: These substances often require neutralization before entering waterways. Some can be distilled — a recycling method — to reduce environmental impact.
Nearly everyone, including laypeople, recognizes the sharps containers occupying hospitals and medical facilities everywhere. One of the primary issues with these receptacles involves inserting non-sharps materials, like plastic exam gloves. Facilities can reduce this misuse by installing adequate signage and providing proper vessels for all waste types. Those that admit patients can keep these bins out of public reach.
Another method of waste reduction requires you to train your staff on urine disposal. Once you obliterate any personally identifiable information, you can pour it down the drain — after all, it’s no different than flushing the toilet. The savings in terms of reducing landfill space use can add up quickly.
Your facility can save considerable cash on new materials by recycling what you can in terms of chemical waste. While you may face an upfront capital expenditure to install distilling equipment, these pay for themselves in both expense reduction and environmental benefits over the long term. This method also keeps these substances from entering waterways, where they can cause neurological changes in humans and animals.
2. Switch to Eco-Friendly Materials
One method of making your lab eco-friendlier involves swapping out plastic for glass wherever feasible. These containers can undergo sterilization at processing facilities. Replacing plastic pipettes with these models can save you considerable money over the long term and reduce your environmental footprint.
When you examine specimens, your choice of mounting medium matters. Seek polymer-based versions that do not contain hazardous reagents, such as xylene, toluene or benzene.
Reducing waste by switching to eco-friendly materials is only one part of the puzzle. To complete it, you also need to recycle.
For instance, surgical instruments often come in sterilization wrap — which creates a mountain of plastic in operating rooms. Consider replacing this single-use substance with reusable sterilization containers to save money and reduce waste.
Furthermore, some laboratory supplies come in kits that contain items you don’t typically use. Talk to your suppliers to see if they can customize your shipment to eliminate these excess materials. If you do receive them, explore ways to recycle those that remain untouched instead of tossing them in the trash.
4. Limit Your Energy Consumption
Sometimes, you need to maintain a constant temperature that requires your lab to suck up electricity like a vampire. However, is there any reason that the fungi in your Petri dishes need a nightlight?
One method of reducing energy consumption nearly effortlessly is to install a master switch. A single flick at day’s end powers off all nonessential lights and machines. Couple this installation with training so all staff knows your facility’s shutdown procedures when working late.
You can also reduce the amount of water your laboratory uses. Make sure the toilets in your facility are low-flow models. Replace all dripping faucets immediately — a leaky sink can cost more than 600 gallons per year.
5. Reduce Wasteful Over-Ordering
While you can save money by ordering in bulk, the principle only holds if you use what you purchase. Stick with smaller amounts for items you rarely access. Many lab materials have strict expiration dates. Leaving them to rot on your shelves costs you money and creates unnecessary environmental destruction.
The best way to keep on top of your requirements is to perform inventory every six months. This process will help you identify materials that tend to linger past the “sell by” date.
Make Your Lab More Eco-Friendly
Medical research facilities create a ton of waste. However, you can make your lab more eco-friendly by following the five tips above.
Previously published on Earthtalk.com and is republished here under permission.
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