Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Chemical Management: A Worthy Investment

The University is a global centre for scientific research. Supporting this involves the acquisition, consumption, and proper disposal of a great variety of chemicals.

Within the School of Chemistry alone there are an estimated 25,000 different chemical containers valued at over £1million. Within the Joseph Black Building, a system has been implemented to manage the wastage from such a large quantity and variety of chemicals.

School of Chemistry staff - alongside the University’s procurement team - has implemented a Chemical Management System as part of the SciQuest eProcurement system. This has improved the tracking and availability of chemicals for research staff and saved the school as much as £100,000 since implementation.

The system provides an online database of all already-available chemicals in the Joseph Black Building to facilitate sharing and avoid double orders, potentially resulting in financial savings.

Many hours are saved in organizing data on so many chemicals and regulatory reporting is streamlined. Spoilage of chemicals can be reduced, expiry dates recorded and notifications delivered of nearly-expired chemicals. Often underestimated costs associated with the entire life-cycle of chemicals.

Lifecycle costs of chemicals

Purchasing is just the start, as storage and disposal often cost just as much or even more. Clear-outs after departing research staff often yield surprising quantities of unused chemicals from sometimes astonishingly old bottles: Joseph Black staff reported finding chemicals assigned for disposal as old as a century as well as many chemicals without identifiable labelling.

They also found chemicals in boxes that might be a serious security or health concern. The system thus also improves health and safety, as unlabelled and untracked chemicals can pose serious concerns for staff and students.

Joseph Black staff has simplified the user interface of the system by for example reducing the amount of possible titles a user faces and input the names and locations of thousands of chemicals. Experienced staff help explain the ins and outs of the system for new users. While some users go as far as recording the amount of usage of chemicals as they’re stored, this is not a requirement.

Easy to implement in your labs

To start using the system, ensure that your chemicals are being ordered via SciQuest (most research chemicals at UoE are). Then contact eProcurement Team (epsusers@ed.ac.uk) and request that they come and set up the system on your computers. Initial set up requires only listing your chemicals to an excel spreadsheet, which may be then uploaded straight from excel to the system.

Ideally, an entire floor or building would simultaneously upload their locations and stocks to allow best use of the system. While the initial use of the system requires some preparation and training, the eventual benefits of time and money savings, as well as health and safety greatly merit the investment several fold.