Learn how to recycle lab materials, reduce lab plastics, use your purchasing power, manage your chemicals and sell or donate unwanted equipment.
- Video: Waste recycling, chemicals and consumables (Lab Sustainability Webinar, March 2021, Andrew Arnott)
- Waste recycling, chemicals and consumables (Lab Sustainability Webinar, March 2021, Andrew Arnott)
Labs produce a wide range of hazardous and non-hazardous waste materials. Find out how to reduce, reuse and recycle your lab materials, to have a positive impact.
Follow our lab plastics guidance.
This information is also covered in the lab sustainability training presentation video above (chapter one).
The guidance covers 12 recommendations; here are a few examples:
- Substitute single-use plastic for glass.
- Substitute single-use plastic for other reusable materials, or reuse current single-use items.
- Reduce packaging plastics.
Read our case studies about decontamination and reuse/substitution to help reduce your lab plastic waste.
Use our poster as a reminder of 10 ways to reduce plastics in laboratories.
Some 20,500 institutions worldwide are involved in biological, medical or agricultural research (where plastic disposal is likely to be heaviest), so that could equate to around 5.5 million tonnes of lab plastic waste in 2014 — roughly the combined tonnage of 67 cruise liners, and equal to 83% of the plastic recycled worldwide in 2012.
Remember not all waste from a lab is hazardous. If it’s uncontaminated (e.g. packaging) it can be put into the normal recycling or general waste bins:
Used plastic items from a lab that have not been in contact with biological agents, clinical or hazardous materials, and are not identifiable can be placed in standard recycling streams
Uncontaminated paper and cardboard packaging from a lab can be placed in standard recycling streams
Uncontaminated/deactivated glass containers can be re-used in house or returned to the supplier
Uncontaminated non-recyclable materials from laboratories can be disposed of through the standard general waste streams – not clinical, biological or hazardous
Cross-contamination results in substantial extra costs and carbon emissions from extra treatment. Clinical and Biological waste streams can be four times more expensive than non-hazardous waste streams.
Find out how to dispose of items in the safest and sustainable way on the Waste and Recycling website.
Follow our sustainable lab consumables guide.
This covers: experimental design and research quality; packaging; take-back schemes; pipette tips and boxes; personal protective equipment (PPE); cell culturing consumables; microcentrifuge/conical centrifuge tubes; winchesters and other bottles; reagents, water and kits and columns, solvents, syringes; and glassware.
- Opt for recyclable packaging (paper and card), even for temperature controlled deliveries (e.g. NEB, ThermoFisher, Thorlabs, Elkay, Corning, Merck/Millipore, Bio-Techne, Cambridge Bioscience).
- Choose products with packaging that uses less plastic, or a greater proportion of recycled plastic (e.g. Anachem, Gilson).
- Go with companies who will take back their packaging (e.g. VWR, Promega, NEB, Fisher Scientific).
- Buy autoclavable tip boxes (so you only need to purchase loose refill tips).
- Give back tip boxes and/or the inserts for recycling (e.g. Anachem, Gilson, Starlab, VWR, Elkay, Appleton Woods, SLS, Sarsted, Greiner Bio-One).
Old pipette tips
- Investigate trade-in schemes for old (unused) pipette tips which are surplus to your requirements, providing you with store credit (e.g. Anachem, Gilson).
Green general purchasing options
- Some large wholesalers provide an indicator on their website/catalogue of greener options (e.g. VWR, Merck/Millipore, SLS, Starlab).
Be conscious of what you use and why.
Plan experiments to avoid repeats
Use the minimum viable volume of chemicals and samples
This information is also covered in the lab sustainability training presentation video above (chapter two).
Consider redesigning your experimental processes to follow the principles of Green Chemistry, including reducing the hazard level of materials, reducing waste and reducing energy inputs.
Order appropriate quantities, check if there is already the same chemical available, check if others can make use of your unwanted chemicals and, if not, ensure they are disposed of correctly.
Use a lab exit proforma which includes tasks to redistribute or dispose of chemicals and materials. This can help avoid situations where materials are discarded because they are unidentifiable or expired.
Check Warp It, the University's online reuse platform, before ordering chemicals or materials. You can also ask colleagues directly.
There may be extra materials available which you could use, reducing disposal as waste if the expiry date is exceeded.
Warp It is open to staff and postgraduate students.
Join Warp It
Follow our equipment reallocation flowchart to help you sell or donate old equipment which is no longer needed in your lab, to help free up space, while also helping other scientists who can make use of this equipment.