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Environmental Sustainability with Greener Laboratories

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Human's current carbon footprint is destroying the one place everyone calls home, earth. Urbanization rates are predicted to increase in the future meaning the need for natural resources and energy and waste production will rise as well. Thanks to developments in research, technology, and medical advancements, the life span of humans has been prolonged immensely. However, this came at a price. The amount of waste laboratories produce is very high. Disposing waste has high costs, especially if the waste is contaminated. The United States generates about 254 million tons of waste. In 2014, labs were responsible for 5.5 million tons of waste, which only consisted of plastics, not glass or anything else. We can improve a lab's environmental impact by promoting more sustainable green labs.

Green labs have recycling programs for lab materials such as glass and plastic, which can be recycled without losing its quality or purity and used as a substitute for 95% of raw materials. Without recycling, waste ends up in a landfill or an incinerator consumes energy and contributes to the greenhouse-gas emissions, air pollution, and overflow of landfill waste, which will exacerbate the current climate change situation.

The recycling business also creates over 200,000 jobs in the U.S., which provides some sustainability to the job market. Industries could even join this fight and work with labs to help recycle their waste if they purchase the products from them. Kimberly-Clark have implemented a glove-recycling program for institutions willing to pay to ship the gloves back. This would be a win-win situation for both parties.

Waste production doesn't only pose a problem for the environment, but it also affects our health negatively. Having a greener lab will also improve everyone's health. The amount of toxic chemicals and waste people need to interact with will be cut down. Pollution prevention and source reduction are important when it comes to cutting down on environmental impacts.

Of course, implementing a green lab can be tedious and require an initial investment, but many have done so with great success. Universities such as Stanford, Oregon State, and Columbia have become eco-friendly and initiated recycling programs. Besides saving our planet, recycling lab waste saves money for labs. Columbia was able to recycle 50% of their glass waste and saw a 40% decrease in glassware disposal expenses. If we can afford to invest the initial time and resources, it will be worth it in the end.

How can you help? We need to stop the pollution at the source, be more lab-conscious, and implement lab-recycling programs. Time and money are important, but so are the consequences of our environmental footprint. I urge you to reach out to your community leaders, local research facilities, and even industries to make environmental issues one of their priorities. Being more conscious of our actions will leave our planet in a better condition than it is now and allow us to further the research world. Our future generations depend on it.

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Vy Cao is a proud native Vermonter. She graduated from the University of Vermont (UVM) with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and microbiology. Currently, she is working as a laboratory researcher while enrolled in the Public Health (more...)

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