A Sustainable Lab Plastic Solution | GreenLabs Recycling

May 14, 2024

recycling broken down plastic

Lab Plastic Recycling: the Science Sustainability Crisis

In the bustling laboratories of life sciences, a silent crisis unfolds daily – how to deal with lab plastic waste. 

While scientific advancements propel us forward, the environmental toll of plastic waste threatens to undo this progress. 

Plastic Waste: A Global Problem

To grasp the magnitude of the issue, consider this: globally, over 5.5 million tons of plastic garbage are created annually by scientific research, which amounts to 1.8% of the plastic waste produced globally.

Scientists generate just under a pound (0.66-0.88 lbs) of plastic garbage each day on average, or 154–220 lbs annually. 

Future trends for waste creation are not looking good either. Overall, global healthcare waste is increasing at an accelerated pace of 2-3 percent annually as healthcare facilities expand to meet demand worldwide. 

The plastics that make up this waste profile, ranging from pipette tip boxes to conical tube racks, pose a significant challenge to responsibly recycle due to their specialized nature and limited recycling options. 

Why Is Recycling Lab Plastic Such a Challenge

The sorting machinery at most single-stream recycling facilities, also known as Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), is not designed to recognize or handle these specialty items. MRFs typically also have rules that categorize lab plastics as medical waste and by protocol, human workers along the MRF lines identify and discard lab items as trash. This protocol is in place to help keep the recycling commodities free of possible contaminants, but it also spells doom for perfectly harmless lab plastic consumables like empty pipette tip boxes.

Lab plastic consumables are often made of multiple types of plastic or other specialized materials which complicates the recycling process. At a recycling facility, it’s necessary to separate items into singular plastic resin (or plastic type) categories. When bales (typically 700 lbs) of a single resin-type are ready, these are sold as a commodity in the recycling markets and can be made into new materials.

If a lab consumable is made of multiple types of plastic, it is difficult to develop equipment to separate the item into its component parts. It’s not economically viable for many recycling facilities to develop equipment to recycle these specialty materials as they are not as ubiquitous as items such as cardboard boxes or plastic drinking water bottles that are found in almost every household across the country.

Therefore, recycling facilities may ‌reject lab plastics, despite responsible separation or sterilization by lab personnel, because of the possibility of contamination and the mechanical challenges of separation posed by the specialized materials.

This is unfortunate because the majority of lab consumables are composed of plastics that are in great demand in recycling markets.

Even if initiatives to recycle lab plastic consumables are gaining traction, reducing the overall use of plastic materials will always be the best course of action. Prioritizing buying products that can be refilled or reused is the most environmentally sustainable approach.

Addressing Sustainability Shortfalls

Focused purchasing management must be implemented to reduce ‌plastic impact. Healthcare and scientific research institutions must pay close attention to the consumables they use every day and make a concerted effort to keep track of inventory to prevent expiration and loss of product. Additionally, purchasing managers should look to purchase reusable or lower-plastic alternatives to common lab consumables such as pipette tip boxes. Check out this database from MyGreenLab to see how common brands of lab consumables are rated through an environmental lens.

Laboratories must implement secure and transparent systems that collect, transport, separate, and handle used material before disposing of it. Working with a reliable specialty recycling partner is a great way to reduce your environmental impact.

The GreenLabs Recycling Solution

With the limitations of conventional recycling in mind, the need for specialized solutions becomes evident. GreenLabs Recycling is a beacon of hope in the sea of plastic. Founded by scientists Brenda and David Waterman, GreenLabs Recycling offers a lifeline for the research industry in Greater Boston

GreenLabs Recycling is focused on sustainability and transparency in recycling practices. They are committed to collecting and recycling lab plastics that cannot be recycled through traditional single-stream channels.

By understanding the unique challenges of lab plastics, we develop innovative recycling processes tailored to the needs of research laboratories. 

We prioritize efficiency and environmental impact through a localized approach, which sets a new standard for materials management in the scientific community.

GreenLabs Recycling – How it Works

The recycling process begins with the collection of lab plastics from research facilities across the Greater Boston area. 

GreenLabs accepts a wide range of items, including pipette tip boxes, conical tube racks, and media bottles. 

Unlike conventional recycling programs, GreenLabs Recycling is a specialty recycling service that specifically handles plastic items from labs to ensure they are not fated for a landfill or incinerator. 

After collecting and weighing the plastic from each facility, it is transported to GreenLabs Recycling’s facility in Concord, MA where it is sorted by resin-type and then granulated (size-reduced) to prepare the plastic for injection molding applications.

GreenLabs ensures recycled plastics are repurposed into new products, minimizing the need for virgin materials and reducing overall environmental impact.

How it Works

  1. Receive easy-to-use bins to save your used plastic material. 
    1. Each bin can hold up to 150 tip boxes or up to 80 media bottles
  2. Once you have filled the bins, GreenLabs will pick up the plastic from your location and transport it to their facility to sort and shred it. 
  3. Then, GreenLabs collaborates with local manufacturers to give the plastic a new life to reduce your carbon footprint.

Working Together to Save the Planet

The issue of lab plastic waste can be overcome. The best way to combat pollution and create a sustainable future is to work together and utilize innovative solutions.

Individuals and organizations need to support initiatives that prioritize environmental stewardship. This will enable us to contribute to positive change and uphold the principles of scientific integrity. 

Together, businesses can redefine the relationship between science and sustainability and pave the way for a greener, more prosperous future for everyone. 


Get Started With GreenLabs

The lab plastic sustainability problem demands immediate attention and action. GreenLabs Recycling offers a process to repurpose used plastic lab consumables  as a valuable resource and create a more sustainable future for generations to come. 

Join us in supporting initiatives to save the planet and take the first step towards a world where science and sustainability go hand in hand. Contact us today to get started.