Sustainability Tips

Top tips to help scientists manage their lab in the most sustainable way

Laboratories by their nature are wasteful in terms of plastic, energy and water but every little change helps when it comes to sustainability. By challenging your lab to incorporate as many of the ideas below, you can see how much you can save. Remember, even small changes can make a significant impact when it comes to laboratory sustainability. By adopting these tips, you can help create a more environmentally friendly and efficient lab environment.

Reduce Energy

Reducing energy consumption in the lab is a crucial aspect of Laboratory Sustainability. One effective method is to turn off lights when the lab is empty or install sensors that automatically control the lighting. This simple practice can significantly reduce energy wastage and contribute to a more sustainable environment.

Another important measure is to only switch on equipment when it is required. Often, lab equipment such as water baths are left running unnecessarily, consuming energy even when not in use. By promoting a culture of awareness and responsibility, labs can minimize energy usage and reduce their carbon footprint.

Furthermore, investing in energy-efficient equipment is a wise choice. For instance, opting for low energy freezers can save a substantial amount of electricity while maintaining the required temperature for sample storage. These energy-efficient alternatives not only contribute to reducing energy consumption but also lead to long-term cost savings.

Repair Rather Than Replace

When it comes to laboratory sustainability, repairing lab equipment instead of replacing it with new is a wise choice. Lab equipment is often built to be durable and can last for many years with proper maintenance. In many cases, a simple part replacement or repair can extend its lifespan significantly.

Opting for repairs instead of purchasing new equipment offers several advantages. Firstly, it is a cost-effective solution. Buying new lab equipment can be expensive, especially for research institutions or smaller laboratories with limited budgets. By repairing existing equipment, or buying preowned, organisations can save money and allocate resources to other important areas of their work.

Moreover, repairing lab equipment is also beneficial for the environment. The production and disposal of new equipment contribute to carbon emissions and waste generation. By choosing to repair, laboratories can reduce their carbon footprint and minimise the amount of electronic waste that ends up in landfills.

Reduce Plastic Packaging

Swapping plastic packaging and products in the lab for cardboard or other sustainable alternatives is a key initiative in Laboratory Sustainability. Many products and packaging in laboratories are made from virgin polystyrene or polypropylene simply because they always have been. However, there is no functional or scientific reason for items like tip racks or clinical waste bins to be made of plastic.

Imagine a world where clinical waste bins are made of wood pulp or PCR plates are plant-based. By embracing sustainable alternatives, we can significantly reduce the environmental impact of laboratory operations. Not only will this help minimize plastic waste, but it will also contribute to a more eco-friendly and responsible approach to scientific research.

If plastic can't be replaced then the next best alternative may be recycled plastic products. Some products, such as clinical waste bins aren't all he way there but 70% recycled material is definitely a good start!

Recycle Plastics

Recycling plays a crucial role in the Laboratory Sustainability Consultancy's efforts to promote a sustainable approach to managing laboratory plastic waste and packaging. While it is acknowledged that recycling should be considered as a last resort, it presents a more environmentally friendly alternative to incineration and landfill.

When it comes to recycling laboratory plastics, it is essential to exercise caution and carefully consider any potential hazardous waste and contamination. This ensures that the recycling process is carried out safely and effectively, minimizing any negative impacts on the environment.

The Laboratory Sustainability Consultancy strongly advocates for the prioritization of recycling wherever possible. By diverting plastics from incineration and landfill, we can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving natural resources, and mitigating the harmful effects of plastic waste on ecosystems.

Freezer Challenge

The Laboratory Freezer Challenge is an opportunity to promote energy-efficient practices in laboratory settings. One area of focus is the utilisation of ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers, which typically operate at -86 degrees Celsius due to their capabilities. However, it is essential to evaluate whether your samples truly necessitate such extreme temperatures.

By setting ULTs to -70 degrees Celsius, significant energy and cost savings can be achieved. This adjustment still ensures the preservation of samples while reducing the strain on energy resources. Additionally, there are other enhancements that can be implemented to enhance the efficiency of freezers, such as clearing out samples that are no longer required, reduce door openings, position the freezer away from heat sources in a well ventilated and cool room and finally replace old, inefficient equipment - where appropriate!  

Switch to -150

Changing from a liquid nitrogen (LN2) system to a -150 freezer can significantly benefit Laboratory Sustainability. Some studies suggest the cost of operation can be reduced by around 95% over a decade, compared to an LN2-based system. Additionally, the carbon footprint could decrease in the region of 85% over the same period. The savings will be even more substantial with more frequent use, leading to faster and more rapid cost reductions. Apart from the positive impact on carbon footprint and running costs, utilising an LN2-free controlled rate freezer offers numerous advantages including health and safety benefits, reduction in PPE costs, reduced danger of samples being compromised through poor LN2 supply and ease of use.

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