Tips and tricks we're trying to improve lab sustainability
How can we perform bench science more sustainably? When setting up the lab, we reached out for advice on how to think about lab sustainability. We're sharing the advice we received and initiatives we are implementing here and in a recent Trends in Biochemical Sciences article. Please check it out if you're interested in wet lab sustainability. Contact us if you have other suggestions - we're always looking for ways to do wet lab work more sustainably.
Thank you to Stanford sustainability intern Logan Leak, Stanford School of Engineering health and safety expert Anthony Commissaris, and research scientist extraordinare Janina Tamborski for putting this resource together.
Compost bins for non-transgenic plant waste!
A lot of the plants we grow in the lab are transgenic and their reproductive parts (flowers, seeds, etc.) must be disposed of as biohazardous waste. However, non-transgenic plants can enter traditional waste streams. To make sure all of that fantastic organic material stays out of landfills, we've started composting our non-transgenic plants and soil. With a little help from Stanford Zero Waste, we got two small compost bins to collect non-transgenic plants and soil. If your lab generates a significant amount of non-hazardous organic materials, consider adding a compost bin to the lab. So far, we love it!
Gloves play an important role in laboratory science; they help keep researchers safe from dangerous reagents and protect precious samples from us! Several glove recycling programs have emerged to help reduce laboratory waste. We participate in Kimberly-Clark's glove recycling program. If you're at Stanford, it's easy to join; just ask your building manager for a collection bucket and periodically empty it into your building's central collection vessel. This program is supported by many universities in the US and UK, you can read more about it here: https://www.kcprofessional.com/en-us/solutions/rightcycle-by-kimberly-clark-professional
Not sure what your university is doing to promote recycling? Contact your EH&S rep to start a conversation!
One of my favorite pieces of equipment in the lab is a used Eppendorf 2510 electroporator. These workhorse machines last forever and we got ours from eBay for <$400. Though it can be scary to buy second hand equipment online, it's typically inexpensive and worth a gamble. We've already picked up bottles, tube racks, and ice buckets second hand - shout out to Stanford Lab Grab! Now, we're souring these national auction sites for more second hand equipment:
Pot wash and re-use
The development of cheap plastic pots has made it easier than ever to grow research plants in single use pots. To cut down on single use plastics in the lab, we purchased sturdy growth vessels that we can easily wash and reuse. With some help from Stanford's Facilities & Planning Director, we set up a sink with a soil trap and high pressure sprayer for washing dirty pots.
Much of a lab's plastic waste comes from single-use products such as pipette tips, culture tubes, plates, weigh boats, etc. To curb plastic waste, we have switched to re-useable and/or non-plastic alternatives for many consumables. Some of our favorites include metal chemical spatulas, wooden sticks and toothpicks to pick colonies, and paper weigh boats. To aid selection of sustainable goods, check out the ACT database, which uses an Environmental Impact Factor to rate the environmental impact of lab products.
Plastic & paper recycling
To encourage recycling, we've centrally located receptacles for recyclable paper and plastic waste. It's worth noting that recycling certain plastics ccan be difficult in the USA and not all counties have solutions for difficult resins. Check resin ID codes and your city's current recycling programs to see what can be rinsed and recycled in your lab. If you're at Stanford, you're in luck! Difficult resins, even polypropylene (#5), are shipped to a facility that turns our used plastics into paint cans.
Ultra-low temperature freezer set to -70C
Ultra-low temperature freezers are notoriously energy intensive - consuming as much energy as the average American home each year. To keep energy use low, we use an energy efficient freezer and operate it at -70C instead of -80C. This combination off interventions, suggested by the Freezer Challenge, reduces operation energy by ~78% relative to a traditional freezer operating at -80C.
See -70C fact sheet: https://sustainable.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/ChillUpFreezer11.15.pdf
Join the growing list of labs "chilling-up"!