It’s now more important than ever to reduce our use of plastic if we’re to reduce or reverse the impact this is having on the environment.

Following are a few thoughts and ideas on keeping your plastic use in the school lab sustainable.

The Problem with Plastic Pollution!

Plastic is incredibly durable, and while that’s a necessary quality for many of its uses, it poses a huge problem when it comes to disposing of it. It can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and this waste ends up in landfills or our oceans. Ingested by marine life, it inevitably ends up in our food chain, and the effects this has on human health is still unknown.

Did you know…

•             About 10 million tonnes of plastic is estimated to end up in the oceans each year.

•             A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that if current trends continue, plastic will outweigh the amount of fish in the ocean by 2050.

•             A survey by Plymouth University estimated plastic is found in a third of fish caught in the UK, including widely eaten species such as cod, haddock and mackerel.

Plastic Use in Scientific Labs…

Bio-scientific research alone is thought to be responsible for 1.8 per cent of total global plastic production. But even closer to home in schools, single-use consumables are rapidly becoming the norm.

Science labs tend to use plastic due to its various useful properties, such as being shatterproof and lightweight. It is therefore widely used for lab equipment such as multi-well plates, pipettes, bottles, flasks, vials and culture plates.

But given the sheer volume of waste it produces, it’s time to start making some changes. With this in mind, it’s good to think about the three R’s:

Reduce - Could You Cut Down?

There are plenty of options available - even if you’ve only ever used plastic for a particular task, it doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there that could work just as well. Why not try glass graduated cylinders rather than conical tubes? Glass petri dishes and pipettes are good options too.

You should also consider bulk buying; it’s an easy way to minimise your carbon footprint.

Reuse - Could You Use It More Than Once?

There is a tendency to treat plastic in the lab as a consumable when it may be possible to use some items more than once.

Think about ways you can repurpose the plastic in your lab. For instance, styrofoam cooling boxes can be used in other ways for storage, and pipette tip boxes could be used to hold other lab supplies.

Many things can be washed and reused too, such as conical tubes and pipette tips.

Recycle - Are You Recycling?

It can be confusing to know what’s able to be recycled and what isn’t - you probably aren’t sure when you look around at the plastic in your lab right now. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s not considered a hazard or a biohazard, it can possibly be recycled. Just make sure anything you recycle is decontaminated first.

Thin, lightweight plastic is easier to recycle, so try and choose equipment that’s made of this. 

It’s a good idea to get a recycling system in place - just make sure it’s easily accessible and includes clear signage of what can and can’t be recycled. And lastly, always make sure that anything you do recycle has been decontaminated first!

The measures you take to reduce plastic pollution may seem like a drop in the ocean but together they soon add up. Ultimately, if we all do our part to help contribute towards more sustainable school labs, we can start to make a real difference. So, remember the three R’s, and start using plastic more sustainably in your lab today.