Environmental practice has its own version of the Three Rs, says Colin Shandley, so why stop at ‘Recycle’?
With the global focus on limiting climate change, there are a number of ways that UK labs can play a part in reducing carbon footprint, energy consumption and the environmental impact of waste.
Focusing on waste, one way for labs to reduce the cost and consequences of disposing of redundant laboratory equipment is to change the mindset that old equipment is only good to be recycled. We all know the adage Reduce, Reuse, Recycle but when it comes to end-of-life scientific equipment, too many labs resort to the last of these options.
Realistically, it is difficult for labs to reduce the amount of equipment they buy, although some resource-sharing is encouraged between labs in close proximity within a building. This is particularly the case when a specialised (often very expensive) piece of equipment is only infrequently used. However, for most types, if an item is required, then it is purchased.
Next, reusing: Practically, equipment is not going to be reused in a company without an internal system to broadcast the availability of an unwanted item. Therefore, we need to start considering how we can facilitate the reuse of equipment elsewhere, be it in this country or beyond.
Just because equipment has been replaced by your lab does not mean it is no longer useful. Many start-ups use secondhand lab equipment, with a view to replacing these once sufficient income is generated. In addition, many laboratories in developing countries would welcome 10-year-old equipment rather than have none.
We need to start considering how we can facilitate the reuse of equipment elsewhere, be it in this country or beyond
There are a number of ways in which equipment can be directed into reuse. Firstly, many companies and research organisations have affiliated groups they work with and these would be a good starting point. If equipment is in good working order and can safely be packed and shipped, this would benefit the donor by saving recycling costs but more importantly equips the recipient’s facility.
However, if donating in this way is not practical for your lab, or you would like to recoup some of the purchase price of the redundant item, then selling is an option. You may have a network of contacts in your own field or have a forum within your science park to make known the availability (and asking price) for your equipment.
Also, selling laboratory equipment by auction is becoming more popular these days. Specialist companies can assist with this; equipment remains in your facility until sold and cleared funds received.
Additionally, there are companies in the UK who purchase secondhand lab equipment. Some focus on specific sectors, such as chromatography (GC, HPLC etc) while others range from balances, centrifuges, plate readers, etc to high-end analytical and clinical systems.
Whilst ensuring the reuse of laboratory equipment isn’t the major way that companies can reduce their environmental impact, it is an important part of an overall strategy that, together, can make a real difference.