'Going green' in the lab

May 1, 2009

Current data suggests
that only 12% of life-science plastics are recycled, and it has been
determined that environmental sustainability programs in the lab save money
and time, and create a safer and healthier environment for patients and
staff. Start “going green” in the lab by beginning with the “three Rs” of
saving the environment: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Look for laboratory
products that are less toxic; recyclable, minimally polluting; more energy
efficient; safer for patients and staff; have high recycle content; and use
less packaging.

Reduce energy use: If you are in the market for
new equipment, choose energy efficient products. When it comes to analyzers,
a few manufacturers and distributors already know their customers' want to
“go green.” Replace old refrigerators and freezers with energy efficient
models. Regulate workspace temperatures to eliminate space heaters and fans.


Reduce waste:
Utilize reusable sharps containers for disposing of medical
supplies and waste. Reusable sharps containers are sterilized at high
temperatures and pressure in autoclaves that renders any potentially
hazardous or infectious waste inert.

Reuse: Many “green” ideas may not be new, such
as reusing various types of packaging products or giving new life to
products that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Reuse sterilized or
cleaned specimen shipping containers. Use the company Intranet or bulletin
board to post surplus supplies and equipment for internal redeployment, or
donate items to volunteer organizations.

Reduce waste: Many labs are dumping out reagent
because it degenerated or expired before they could use it all. Do an
assessment of usage, and ask the vendor if he provides packs that would
accommodate your test volume. Review all lab purchases and buy in bulk
when possible, and use companies that reduce shipping materials.

Reuse: Evidence shows that, if done properly,
the washable cuvette system is reliable, effective, and cost efficient.
Another benefit is the reduction of space for storing all of the disposable
cuvettes. Reusable cuvette analyzers, however, usually require more water to
clean the cuvettes. Have the distributor demonstrate how the cuvettes are
cleaned and checked before they are used again.

Recycle: Nothing with chemical or biowaste can
be recycled, but think about other plastics used in the lab, such as the
empty polypropylene tip racks and lids. Several companies are producing
racks that use less plastic and recyclable products.

  A few companies have even started a recycling program that includes
pick-up of empty polypropylene tip racks and lids to be recycled and made
into new plastic products.

  Recycle drink cans, plastic, glass bottles, paper, and cardboard.
Employees should be educated about proper recycling procedures. Be sure all
recycling bins are clearly marked and located in an accessible area.

Recycle: These days, because of HIPAA, most
paper lab reports with patient information are shredded, but the shred can
usually be recycled. Consider using a document destruction service that
specializes in destroying confidential documents. Most companies recycle 100% of
the shredded documents, and have a variety of services available, from secured
containers coupled with scheduled on-site shredding services to off-site
shredding with a certificate of destruction.

Tim “The Lab Guy” Dumas is a clinical laboratory scientist, manager, and consultant, and an accredited speaker through the National Speakers Association. He operates Tim Dumas Laboratory Consulting.Visit www.timdumas.com or for information on his workshops, visitwww.advancepoc.com .

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