LBNL Researchers Show Up to Close the Loop – Polycarbin

LBNL Researchers Show Up to Close the Loop

The revolution in science isn't just about breakthrough discoveries; it's also about the commitment to resource efficiency. Among the myriad research institutions, The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is pioneering the adoption of a circular economy approach, where recycled lab plastics find a new lease on life. Following their publicly shared “Net-Zero Roadmap” the Berkeley Sustainability Program Managers are making meaningful strides towards their environmental targets, tracked and aided by Polycarbin.

“The idea of conducting your research with products that have already passed through your lab really resonated with the scientists” - Jon Doyle

Polycarbin's onsite recycling program (Delta Service), now operational within LBNL's JGI building, marks a significant step towards reducing the environmental footprint created by the disposal of previously non-recycled lab plastics (PP, PS, and HDPE). This initiative arrives at a critical time when the scientific community is awakening to the adverse implications of plastic waste on the environment. Moreover, the scalability of this program to other buildings demonstrates its potential to revolutionize not just one institution but the entire lab consumables industry, providing a promising path to address this growing concern and make a substantial environmental impact.

This scalable and environmental choice is more than just a recycling scheme. It is easy to recognize a lab’s downstream impact, as the pile of used plastic burns as an obvious indicator of industrial waste, but it's important to do more than keeping this material out of the landfill. This diversion step can be maximized by having the material’s value maintained through the correct avenue, namely by putting this new circular resin back into items that have the same value as the original plastic: lab products. Composting or downcycling into plastic lumber or park benches is a good way to reduce landfill, but does nothing to decrease your lab’s dependence on fossil fuels when it needs to restock its benchtops and shelves. By avoiding the traditional life cycle of plastics, LBNL researchers are able to divert their used products to a place that will derive immediate value from them, and keep these materials from degrading (slowly over the next thousand years, seeping into the soil, water, and air), burning (quickly releasing dioxins into the air of the at-risk community that the incinerator is in), or a delayed version of the previous (park benches and plastic lumber are eventually thrown away to the landfill or incinerator).

The JGI building’s choice to circularize their plastic stream has already kept thousands of kilograms of material in the supply chain but the true benefit of the circular economy is that now LBNL has the ability and access to use the products that their recycling stream is remanufactured into. These products are the physical embodiment of the circular economy. They are made in the same domestic manufacturing plants as some of the high-carbon products shelved alongside Polycarbin products in stockrooms across the country, the sole difference being that Polycarbin’s products are made with circular economy resin, drastically reducing your lab’s dependence on fossil fuels when you choose to research with a sustainably made product.

You cannot manage what you do not measure, whether that is an experiment in your lab or the amount of water needed to frack fossil fuels out of the Earth to make the tools to conduct said experiment. LBNL shares Polycarbin’s commitment to transparency by using the affectionately named Carbin Counter. This platform is included with both the recycling operations as well as any purchase of Closed-Loop lab products, and serves as a sustainability dashboard for the LBNL sustainability team’s progress. Informed by the previously mentioned Perkins & Will LCA, this tool showcases LBNL’s emissions reductions. These reductions are confirmed by the products themselves; the physical embodiment of the circular economy - each pound of plastic conferring a 85% reduction in water usage and a 90% reduction in CO2 emissions. Each kilogram of circular plastic used supplants 1.4 kilograms of crude oil in the scientific supply chain.

Researcher’s at LBNL understand the significance of their lab waste and the importance of making green procurement choices. The Sustainability Program Managers invited Chris Dunfield and Jonathan Doyle onto campus to speak with interested scientists about lab sustainability, the circular economy, and their role within it. From a table in the Integrative Genomics Building, Chris and Jonathan introduced sustainability-minded researchers to the products made specifically from their used lab plastics. “The idea of conducting your research with products that have already passed through your lab really resonated with the scientists” reported Jonathan. The pair of Polycarbin representatives helped scientists sign up to expand the recycling service to their labs and handed out samples of low-carbon product samples. Pizza and samples were made available in the 3rd floor break room.

LBNL researchers looking to get involved in the recycling operations are invited to reach out to the Polycarbin team in order to be connected with the ongoing efforts. Scientists looking to trial the products are encouraged to reach out to their stockroom for samples, or connect with Polycarbin directly if the extra samples have since been claimed; “the samples and pizza were nearly finished by the time we left” explained Chris. For more information about the only circular economy in the life sciences and how your lab can begin to decarbonize its workflow, please reach out to Polycarbin at, or via the chat option to the bottom right of this page.

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