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Improving Recycling in the Laboratory – Challenges to be overcome

Improving Recycling in the Laboratory – Challenges to be overcome

At home, like many others, I recycle plastic, cardboard, paper and I compost my food waste. I even collect up my used baby food pouches and send them away to be recycled (I know, I shouldn’t even use them but no, I’m not a make-my-own purees of organic veg Mum! Sorry). I try not to purchase over-packaged items and avoid single-use plastics as much as possible. Yes, I’m a bit obsessed about recycling! In the lab however, I feel I am failing.

My new reusable coffee cup (to save me from instant ‘cappuccino’) alongside my trusty, battle-worn Sigg water bottle.


Working in the lab presents significant challenges with regard to recycling. I think the main issue is that nobody really knows what can and can’t be recycled and a clear system doesn’t seem to be available (as each lab is so different). Importantly, in a lab environment there are consumables which cannot be recycled because they are contaminated (or potentially contaminated) and may present a hazard to subsequent handlers, so these must be disposed of accordingly, following stringent guidelines which are already in place. There still remains plenty in the lab that can be recycled, but when safety is a priority who makes that call?


Recycling in the laboratory is further impeded as companies which do offer collection of plastic-ware for recycling, only apply this to their own products. Most labs use many different products from various different companies so this becomes a problem. Imagine having 20 different collection bins and expecting staff to vigilantly check each piece of plastic-ware before they put it in the correct bin. Yet at least these companies are trying to close the loop on their products – plenty of companies seem to have zero information on recycling their lab consumables and don’t appear publically to be interested in their environmental impact at all.


These challenges, however, can be overcome and already within the University and further afield, successful schemes are reducing lab waste. Timothy Calder has implemented a successful glove recycling system in the School of Chemistry and has recycled 7,800 kg of gloves since starting this scheme in 2014. See the University sustainability page for more information.


There is no reason why this should not become standard practice in laboratories and I would like to set something like this up in our lab. Again, this scheme is only for gloves which are not chemically or biologically contaminated and here we are relying on individual users to segregate waste correctly (another problem we encounter). But again, this only applies to one brand of gloves. Should you need to switch glove suppliers in order to do some recycling?


The University of Edinburgh’s Climate Strategy pledges the university to be zero carbon by 2040. More information regarding sustainability strategies within the university is available at:


Therefore, reducing waste and improving recycling facilities in the lab is going to become more important, as institutes will be expected to demonstrate their commitment to a sustainable future, to achieve targets set out in the governments climate change Policies. The genetics Lab at the Edinburgh CRF has a Silver Sustainability Award and now we are going for Gold, so plenty of room for recycling improvement!


Tammy Gilchrist is Research Technician in the Genetics Core and a recycling fanatic. She can be contacted on @TLGilchrist1.


Reposted from Edinburgh CRF Blog, originally posted September 2017



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