As a scientist myself, I have always been focused on performing experiments to achieve my sole goal of producing data for a publication. Recently I started paying attention to the waste I solely generate on a regular basis in the lab. Starting from disposable Eppendorf tubes and pipette tips, to labels and Petri plates, it is the incredible amount of plastic waste that goes out in the landfill. None of the labs that I have worked for in all these years as a researcher use recyclable products in the lab because of their price tag. It is saddening to see very little awareness for recycling or reducing waste in a lab as compared with our own homes where we recycle as much as possible. Since recyclable plastic labware is so expensive, I started looking for ways to reduce my lab waste at a personal level. Here are some steps I took to help the environment by reducing my landfill contribution:
Calculate the minimum number of tubes/plates required for an experiment
Pause before starting the experiment and calculate the number of tubes/plates you will need for your experiment, and ask yourself, can you reduce the number of samples, such as bacterial colonies, you are going to test; can you plate more seeds on a plate, etc.? Even if you can reduce the number by one, it will help in the bigger picture.
Prepare master mixes to reduce pipette tip waste
For example, while setting up a PCR for 30 reactions, it is very convenient and less time-consuming to prepare a master mix with all the common reagents instead of aliquoting separate reagents to 30 tubes. You will also greatly reduce the number of pipette tips in your experiment by preparing a master mix.
Cut the plastic labels to half/quarter
I work with plants and I use plastic labels to label my pots. I have started to cut the labels into four since I can write the genotype easily on a shorter label. That is cutting a 10cm plastic label to 2.5cm, so generating a quarter of the waste. As I said, it helps in the big picture!
Reduce the amount of tape (autoclave/regular)
I am accused of using a lot of tape to label my bottles and other stuff in the lab! Now I have started using as little tape as possible to reduce my waste in the lab. Tape is also not recyclable and goes to the landfill. Also, autoclave tapes are expensive. If you can reduce the amount of tape used, you will save some money as well!
Reduce the amount of culture media
Cloning is a complicated process and requires a lot of lab ware, including culture tubes for growing bacteria. I have started screening clones by growing a mini-culture (100µL) in a PCR tube. This way I cut down the plastic waste from a 10mL culture tube to a 200µL PCR tube per clone. This is saving a ton of plastic waste! After identifying a positive clone I can grow a regular 5mL culture to extract the plasmid. Also, you will be saving a lot of LB broth by reducing the culture volume significantly.
Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. It is important to start helping the environment at your own bench. Also, saving the landfill waste will save your lab some money which will keep the boss happy!
If you are already doing your part or just got an idea to reduce waste in your lab, please share your tips and suggestions in the box below.