Reducing Waste in the Lab
Laboratories are resource-intensive spaces. Reminders are everywhere: piles of gloves, overflowing tip boxes, mountains of PCR plates – all used once, and then thrown away. What can be done? We’ve all heard ‘‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” or the ‘Three Rs,’ but how can they be implemented in the lab? Here are some ways to rethink experimental design through the lens of waste minimization.
When it comes to reducing waste at the bench, most of the work begins before the experiment starts. Planning is critical to waste prevention. For instance, does the experiment really need all of those replicates and every iteration to optimize? Design of Experiment tools are a great place to start and can allow you to test assay conditions in the most efficient way.
Another opportunity for reducing waste is by creating master mixes and thoughtfully dispensing material to reduce the number of pipette tips needed. First dispense the master mix using a repeat pipettor, then add individual samples.
Reuse efforts also serve as a valuable strategy for reducing waste. For example, this may take the form of consolidating leftover reagents that come with assay kits for future use, or, if you find yourself in a BLS-1, reusing gloves by wiping them down with alcohol. Additionally, many vendors allow the return of shipping packaging or cold packs for reuse.
Remember to consider during the experiment whether everything needs to go into the biohazardous waste bin or single-stream incineration. Many materials that are assumed to be red bag waste are not (though be sure to check with your EHS officers about what in your lab can be taken out of those streams and recycled).
Today, many brands offer some sort of “recycling” solution, but not all are created equal. While turning your tip boxes into a park bench is better than going into landfill, using those tip boxes to make new lab plastics is even better, from a carbon savings standpoint. Instead of downcycling, Polycarbin transforms your single-use plastics back into the labware you use on a daily basis. Better yet, we provide the data to show your impact on reducing your lab’s dependence on fossil-fuel products.
Every action – every experiment – matters. As a community of researchers, we are equipped with the tools and techniques needed to reduce the carbon footprint of innovation. We hope that these tips on rethinking the three R’s will help you feel more confident in helping being part of the solution.
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For an abridged version, check out our article in Lab Manager.