Rethinking laboratory waste

Nov. 25, 2019

When my college-aged stepdaughter  announced she was majoring in “sustainability” my inital reaction was...surprise! How was this young adult, who had a history of not recycling food containers, going to excel in a program that catered to saving the planet? My concern dissipated when I learned sustainability consists of scientists, engineers, educators, social activists and business professionals who promote global development in ways that respect the natural environment. 

Her recent declaration has had me thinking about adults (including a friend who recently ostracized me when I offered her a beverage with a plastic straw) and sustainability; more specifically, clinical laboratorians. In fact, did you know laboratories use 10 times more energy than offices, more than four times more water, and generate billions of pounds of waste every year, nearly all of it considered hazardous?1

Disappointingly, only myself and three other attendees sat in Grenova’s AACC press conference this past summer. They discussed how their technology provides a smarter, cleaner and greener way to process samples using washed and reused consumable liquid handling tips. CEO and founder, Ali Safavi, stated the industry’s tremendous waste is contributing to both land and air pollution. He reminded us that every patient sample uses multiple tips to get test results, resulting in millions of samples daily, and that over 40 million pounds of pipette tips annually end up in landfills.2 Grenova’s mission is to reduce lab consumable waste through innovative devices, aka reusable pipette tips. To learn more, visit

I was also intrigued with the folks at Envetec. This company, a product of Technopath Clinical Diagnostics, is tackling healthcare’s greatest environmental challenge: treatment and disposal solutions for  Regulated Medical Waste (RMW). Their 4,000-pound, on-site, non- thermal technology challenges the status quo. Did I mention it’s safe, quiet, clean, simple to operate and EPA-approved, too? Learn more at

Research by the University of Exeter in the U.K. estimates that labs worldwide generate 5.5 million tons of plastic waste each year.3 Perhaps inspiration can be gained from Francis Crick Institute (FCI), a biomedical research facility based in London. They have “sustainability reps,” who, in addition to being scientists, also advocate for reducing plastic in their labs. FCI offers both sustainability workshops and waste training to employees, however, they know behavior change is only the beginning. An eco-friendly waste-management company is also an important ally.

Just recently, I reached out to a local hospital laboratory to see what they were doing recycle-wise. I was told they do recycle, however, it is mainly due to their hospital environmental services department. The lab uses recycling bins for cardboard, styrofoam and plastics. Sounds pretty standard, right?

But is it enough?

What is your lab doing to embrace and/or support sustainability? What happens to your lab-generated waste? I want to hear from you. In the meantime, I’ll be sourcing paper straws.