Canada – Test tubes, plastic gloves and safety masks are only a string of items used and discarded daily at a laboratory. And while an increasing number of researchers are working on ecological solutions, it stands to reason that the various experiments conducted globally results in a sizable waste stream. Indeed, a new study by McGill University students confirms that its campus labs send an impressive volume of plastic and glass items to landfill each year.
An estimated 100 tons of plastic waste and 275 tons of glass could be recycled annually by properly collecting waste at McGill University laboratory. This material used to innovative work but will hardly ever see the inside of a recycling facility, the research paper claims.
What’s more, except for notable exceptions like Harvard University, it is likely results aren’t much better at the 300-plus research universities scattered across North America. McGill University alone has 900 research and teaching labs.
The findings are based on a 2-month long sampling of 16 different McGill labs, says Sai Rajasekar Rajajayavel, who initiated the study. The mechanical engineering graduate explains that the hazardous nature of certain materials render them unsuitable for reuse or recycling.
‘The university has a very strict policy for these materials. On the other hand, over the years, I’ve thrown out a great deal of non-hazardous materials as well,’ Rajajayavel points out. ‘This fact is just mind-boggling,’ he comments.
The researcher cites figures from the University of Toronto’s St. George campus indicating it is possible to achieve a waste diversion rate of over 68%. This is said to be the highest result achieved by universities in North America.
Since the study was released, McGill University has provided funding for a dedicated waste management scheme for its laboratories. A recycling project is already active to separately collect all plastics and glass items from lab experiments that may safely enter the recycling loop.
Plans to improve the university’s future recycling efforts include performing a life-cycle assessment and life-cycle impact assessment for both the plastic and glass waste.