3 Lab Sustainable Practices That You Can Bring to Your Lab Right Now

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Many researchers brush up against an uncomfortable truth in the lab: Life sciences isn't quite what you'd call green.

There are more single-use gloves, tips, and flasks and more foam and plastic packaging than you can fit in a trash can. On top of that, freezers and faucets run seemingly around the clock—and the energy usage is three times what the average office space puts out, Harvard's Green Labs Program reports.

Still, there are sustainable practices that you can adopt in your laboratory setting—and now, more than ever, researchers, institutions, and suppliers are getting involved, Chemistry World reports. Here's how your lab can join the sustainability movement.

3 Ways to a More Sustainable Lab

1. Maintain freezers, close fume hoods, and take small steps to conserve electricity.

Keep your equipment working efficiently through regular maintenance and care. Checking the gaskets in your lab's freezers and remove any built-up ice. Closing fume hoods could save energy and money, too—it cut Harvard's energy bills by more than $240,000 and reduced the university's greenhouse gas emissions by more than 300 metric tons.

Even these small steps can have a big effect:

  • Use power strips for one-switch shutdowns.
  • Set timers that automatically turn equipment off.
  • Turn off lights and computers at night.
  • Add stickers to equipment reminding users to turn the equipment off when they're done.

2. Install water-efficient upgrades like vacuum pumps and apply common sense practices from the home to the lab.

Minor equipment upgrades can support water conservation. For example, using vacuum pumps instead of a vacuum aspirator could save nearly 240 gallons of water each hour, according to North Carolina State University. The same facility also found that installing water misers for autoclaves cut water usage by up to 90 percent. Circulation loops help, too, as they preempt water waste from single-pass cooling.

Think about how you use water at home, and apply that common sense that to the lab. If you have a leaky faucet, get it fixed. Leaky faucets waste 1 trillion gallons of water in a single year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

3. Be more mindful about bulk ordering and purchase from suppliers that have recycling programs and other green initiatives.

Ordering in bulk doesn't just save on shipping costs; it's also a more sustainable option, as it requires fewer boxes and delivery trips. The catch, though, is that you have to plan your inventory. A lab inventory management guide—like this one from Lab Manager—can help you know what to order and when.

Select your suppliers carefully. Buying from companies that pursue sustainable practices like producing goods from recycled materials is a good way to lighten your lab's environmental load.

Consider suppliers that free mail-back programs, too. Many manufacturers let customers return recyclable materials, such as plastic bags, shrink wrap, plastic foam racks, and tip racks. The Corning Recycles initiative, for example, offers customers in the United States prepaid FedEx or UPS mailing labels so they can return certain types of Corning®, Falcon®, and Axygen® products and packaging. (Note: this program is currently available in the U.S. only.)

Do What You Can

There's probably not going to be a groundbreaking solution that suddenly makes life sciences wholly sustainable any time soon. But there are gradual steps that everyone can take to reduce their lab's imprint. You don't have to make any grand gestures—just do what you can, when you can. And remember that sustainability carries over into your personal life. If you can compost, reduce, reuse, and recycle at home, that's just another way you can offset your lab's environmental footprint.

Small choices add up—so make sure you're making smart ones.