Implementing ecological awareness at the bench has saved up to 40% of my research funding over one year. As scientists and good citizens, many of us strive to reduce, reuse and recycle waste at home. We should be doing the same in the laboratory.
For speed and convenience, molecular biologists in particular rely on disposable tools. Nonetheless, a substantial proportion of plastic lab supplies, including pipette-tip boxes, can be reused after washing and sterilizing. Plastic that is free of hazardous material and not reusable can be recycled.
When possible, we should be using autoclavable glassware instead of plastic. This is fine for reagent vessels, tubing and pipettes, for example, and suitable for most applications, including bacterial and tissue culture, and sampling and preparing solutions or aliquots. Glass can also be treated to remove traces of heat-resistant nuclease enzymes that sabotage experiments with nucleic acids.
Asking for more sustainable products, less packaging and more recyclable plastics will also help the lab-supply industry to prosper.
Scientists are educators. We should improve environmental awareness, responsibility and training in our labs to ensure we are not among the last to jump on the sustainability bandwagon.
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Bistulfi, G. Reduce, reuse and recycle lab waste. Nature 502, 170 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/502170a
Microbial Cell Factories (2021)
Journal of Nephrology (2020)