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Case Studies

Recycling Laboratory Plastics

The Basic and Clinincal Neuroscience team at the Denmark Hill Campus wanted to explore whether they could reduce plastic waste in their laboratories after finding evidence in the science journal Nature that the University of Exeter showed that a department of 280 scientists generated 267 tonnes of plastic in 2014, an equivalent to 5.7 million empty two litre plastic bottles.

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The team first contacted Lambeth Council, who manage the recycling and general waste for their building as their local authority. The Waste Monitoring Officer for Lambeth provided a comprehensive list of the types of plastics that the council was able to accept, confirming that their material would be accepted, providing that they were uncontaminated by any toxic or bio-hazardous residue. In addition, the team were also informed that paper hand-towels from the laboratories would also be accepted if similarly uncontaminated.

Table listing recyclable plastics for Lambeth Council with lab examples:

 

Polymer types

recycled by Lambeth

 

 

Polymer

code

 

 

Example from lab

 

Polyethylene

(PET or PETE)

 

1

 

Bottles used in tissue culture (TC) that contain media, other media supplements and reagents used for standard TC procedures (e.g. passaging)

 

 

High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

 

 

2

 

Containers for non-toxic chemicals and laboratory reagents, typically powders

 

 

Polypropylene (PP)

 

 

5

 

Micro centrifuge tubes

 

After further research of the polymer codes for the everyday plastics used in tissue culture and in the main laboratory, the team discovered that much of them could also be recycled after a thorough rinse. 

The team then created clear posters to outline which lab plastics could be recycled and communicated the new waste streams via departmental circulars and noticed boards. Specific bins were also designated to deal with plastic waste, in order to make the process as alcear as possible. The campus Estates & Facilities teams and departmental cleaners were also informed of the initiative.

The Basic and Clinical Neuroscience team were given a Gold Award for their efforts to introduce an excellent system for recycling laboratory plastics.

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