Laboratories use a lot of resources. In general, laboratories use 10 times more energy and four times more water than office spaces.But how can your laboratory do its part to reduce the amount of waste it produces?

This article reviews the different waste streams and explores ways that labs can reduce the amount of waste they produce without adding a significant amount of work to their daily routines.

Biohazardous waste vs standard waste

Disposing of biohazardous waste costs seven times more than disposing of regular waste. Thus, it is important that laboratory staff have a clear understanding of which products do and do not belong in the biohazardous waste stream.

Items that should be discarded as biohazardous waste are items that may be infectious to humans, such as:

  • Contaminated sharps used on humans or infectious animals
  • Bodily fluids from humans or from infectious animals
  • Waste that contains human disease-causing agents
  • Blood products

Items that DO NOT belong in biohazardous waste:

  • Non-contaminated cell culture liquid waste—this should be exposed to a 10 percent bleach solution then washed down the drain with copious amounts of water.
  • Serological pipettes that have not come into contact with any biohazardous material—these can be disposed of in either standard trash or broken glass containers.
  • Pipette tips that have not come into contact with any biohazardous material—these should be collected in a box (to avoid injuring custodial staff) and discarded into the standard waste.
  • Non-contaminated Kimwipes, Parafilm, bench covers, paper towels, and consumables’ wrappers can all be disposed of in the standard trash.
  • Reagent bottles that held non-hazardous reagents—glass bottles can be disposed of in the broken glass receptacle or recycled to hold hazardous chemical trash, and plastic bottles can be disposed of in standard trash.
  • Non-contaminated sharps—these should be disposed of in your lab’s sharps or glass disposal containers or in a box that can be sealed and discarded into the standard waste.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle

The easiest way to reduce a lab’s contribution to landfills is by reducing the amount of waste they produce in the first place. Here are a few ways to reduce the waste produced by your lab:

  •  Consider using vendor recycling programs, when feasible.Vendors now offer programs to recycle all sorts of products, including gloves, pipette tip boxes, shipping boxes, plastic bags, plastic and paper wrappers, lab water purification cartridges, reagent bottles, protective clothing, and protective eyewear.
  •  Use refillable pipette tip boxes.
  • Reuse three-ring binders by creating a used binder area in your department or institution where all labs can go to find binders, when needed.
  • Use reusable glass tissue culture dishes instead of disposable, plastic dishes, as appropriate.
  •  Donate items you are not using to other laboratories, including equipment, reagents, and consumables, so that they do not end up in the waste stream without being used.
  •  Look into products that are made from recycled, biodegradable, and renewable resources—more and more vendors are now offering these products for items such as pipetting reservoirs, weigh boats, culture flasks, and plastic and glass bottles.
  • Make good inventory management a priority and only order what your lab will use.
  • Reuse Styrofoam coolers, and when your supply of Styrofoam containers starts to overtake your lab, recycle them through a Styrofoam recycling facility.
  • When considering ordering new equipment, check with your surplus group or department to find out whether there is any equipment in good working order available from previous labs—if so, not only will you be reusing equipment that could otherwise end up in a landfill, but you will also save a ton of money.
  • Use non-hazardous agents (which can be disposed of through traditional waste streams) in place of hazardous ones whenever possible—over the past two decades, advances have led to non-hazardous alternatives to agents such as radionucleotides ethidium bromide (EtBr), mercury, etc., making it possible to run a lab without ever needing to use these agents.
    Using non-hazardous agents can save your lab a lot of money on hazardous waste disposal and is also a safer alternative for laboratory staff.
  • When you can, participate in local recycling efforts for regular recyclable items.