One-off gloves to be banned by the lab? Return to the Glass Age

For every researcher working in the laboratory, disposable plastic products have become an indispensable tool for everyday consumables. A team of British researchers estimates that biopharmaceutical and agricultural laboratories around the world generate 5.5 million tons of laboratory plastic waste a year, equivalent to 83% of the world’s plastic seisis in 2012. In a world of increasing white pollution, a well-known university has taken a rather radical step: after five years, it has decided to “destroy” disposable plastic products on campus, including “one-off plastic use” – laboratories.

One-off gloves to be banned by the lab? Return to the Glass Age

Photo credit: Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Mara?n at East Photographic for Mosaic

Compilation, screening,

Source Mosaic, UCL, etc.

Editing by Wei Wei

Earlier, University College London (UCL) announced a ban on single-use plastics. The university has pledged to phase out the use and sale of disposable plastic products in canteens, shops and laboratories between now and 2024. This means that not only plastic bottles, disposable tableware, bags, straws and other common plastic products in life will gradually disappear from the UCL campus in the next 5 years, even plastic gloves, pipette tips, disposable petri dishes and other laboratory supplies will also be “blocked” by the school.

Laboratory-generated single-use plastic pollution is often less of a concern than disposable plastic pollution in everyday life, when in fact, scientific research is one of the potential consumers of disposable plastics. Plastic petri dishes, reagent bottles of various types and sizes, multiple types of gloves, a range of different ranges of pipettes and supporting gun heads, sample tubes and bottled reagents… They don’t usually appear in most people’s daily lives, but like daily coffee and overtime, they’re already the daily routine of modern scientific research. These plastic sandproducts and instruments are the foundation of the 21st century scientific industry, without which we would not have the knowledge, technology, products and drugs we now have. They are vital, but they are also extremely polluting.

“One-off” culture

Back in the history of science, it’s hard to say exactly when disposable plastics will enter the lab – we’re afraid we’ll start with the rise of a “disposable” culture and the invention of plastics.

In the mid-19th century, with the mass production of machines brought about by the industrial revolution, the production of cloth and paper became easier and cheaper. Throwing it away is much cheaper and easier than cleaning and reusing (or paying someone else to do it). The “one-off” culture has since emerged. Beginning in the late 19th century, plastics were gradually synthesized and optimized, and the war spurred an explosion in the plastics manufacturing industry, with large quantities of plastic sweding into post-World War II houses and laboratories.

The advantages of plastic are many and widely used. It is well isolated from the outside environment and protected from contamination, even in transit without fear of leakage, while allowing us to avoid direct contact with toxic reagents. This material can be molded into a variety of shapes. Some research areas, such as DNA research, have also thrived on the help of disposable plastics.

The amount of plastic waste produced in the laboratory today is staggering. Plastic products such as petri dishes and pipette snares used in the experimental study account for 2% of global plastic waste, the University College London said. In 2015, researchers at the University of Exeter assessed the total annual plastic waste in their department of biosciences and concluded that biomedical and agricultural laboratories around the world could generate 5.5 million tons of laboratory plastic waste per year, equivalent to 2012 83% of the world’s total plastic recycling. This “production-use-discard” consumption mode, so that plastic waste unknowingly accumulated more and more, endangering the environment.

One-off gloves to be banned by the lab? Return to the Glass Age

Photo credit: Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Mara?n at East Photographic for Mosaic

How do you deal with this?

However, the treatment of plastic waste in laboratories is also a tricky one. The first is that plastics cannot be naturally degraded, and that tiny pieces of waste plastic that can break down almost invisible to the naked eye – microplastics, which are also found in cosmetics and clothing fibers , are unwittingly causing global pollution. A 2017 study found that 81% of water samples collected worldwide contain microplastics. In the past few years, researchers have even found microplastics in rain in the mountains of the United States and France;

Second, laboratory plastic waste may be contaminated with biochemical drugs, resulting in their recycling process cumbersome and expensive. This type of plastic waste cannot be thrown into a recycling bin on campus with a coffee cup, and they need to be collected in one place and then coclaved (a process of energy consumption and water consumption) before being sent to landfill. These factors make the recovery of plastic waste in the laboratory less easy.

Still, some scientists have begun their efforts to push ahead with the recovery of plastic waste in the lab. David Kuntin, a biomedical researcher at the University of York, and his colleagues found that not all plastic waste is too polluted to be recycled – and that some of it can still be reused through the decontamination process. Quentin and his colleagues examined and selected the less polluting plastic waste in the lab and developed a “decontamination station” that soaked the plastic waste in an efficient disinfectant for 24 hours and then rinsed for chemical decontamination. They also study plastic materials and buy plastics that are easy to recycle. As a result of these initiatives, about a ton of plastic waste in his laboratory is recycled without having to go to landfill. And they ensure the sterilization effect while minimizing the running time of the autoclave equipment, which also saves energy and water consumption.

“We used a ton of recyclable plastic for just 20 of us! “Quentin still can’t believe that so few researchers can pile up so much waste, they can fill 110 bathtubs. “As researchers, spending state money on research, we have to take responsibility for what we’re doing,” Quentin said. “

At the University of Bristol, technicians Georgina Mortimer and Saranna Chipper-Keating set up laboratory waste sorting and recycling programmes. They completed the recycling of experimental gloves and ice packs in collaboration with a company that specializes in disposing of hard-to-recycle waste. Mortimer realized that only recycling could take them further. They are also keen to think about ways to reuse and reduce plastic waste, such as reducing packaging waste through bulk purchases.

One-off gloves to be banned by the lab? Return to the Glass Age

Photo credit: Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Mara?n at East Photographic for Mosaic

Return to the Glass Age

Reuse of glass products is also a good way to eliminate single-use plastic pollution. “There used to be a time when we could do advanced scientific research without relying on plastics. This is not to say that all the scientific research we do now can be done without relying on plastics, but that since there is some scientific research that we could have done without relying on plastic, it means that we can do it now without relying on plastics. Lucy Gilliam, a former “loyal user” of disposable plasticproducts in the lab, is now a leader in the elimination of single-use plastic pollution in Brussels, where she is studying environmental transport policy. Georgina Mortimer and Sarana Chipper Keating, from the University of Bristol, are also in action, trying to re-enable glassware, “and we’re trying to make it fashionable again in our department.” “

However, the return to the glass era has also brought some problems that must be faced. First, reusing glass means that it has to be cleaned and disinfected, a process that also consumes resources. Lucy Stuart, from Leeds, expressed this concern that they did not want the “plastic-free commitment” to be simply replaced by another environmental problem and not fundamentally addressed.

David Quentin, meanwhile, is concerned about the knock-on effects of switching back to glass. Reagents such as cell media, which are used daily in the laboratory, are the result of decades of academic training in plastic petri dishes, optimizing formulations and concentrations. Switching back to glassware means that these reagents may also be updated. Most importantly, switching back to glass may have an impact on the results of the experiment. Cells are particularly sensitive to the environment in which they grow, and they can sense the roughness and hardness of the surface of the environment they are attached to. Cells cultured in glassware may be have different cellular behavior than plastic petri dishes, which can lead to unexpected experimental results.

Another problem is the time cost of reusing glass products. Increased experimental time with glass instruments, water consumption from cleaning and disinfection, and heating processes can increase laboratory overhead. Use disposable petri dishes or guns significantly faster. Through the estimation of full life-cycle costs, Anna Anna Lewis, the firm’ (anna Lewis), found that using plastic swashes up to a much cheaper price, “in this case, we need more subsidies.” “

One-off gloves to be banned by the lab? Return to the Glass Age

Photo credit: Daniel Stier at Twenty Twenty and Miren Mara?n at East Photographic for Mosaic

Reducing single-use plastic contamination in laboratories requires more policy implementation and multi-party collaborative efforts. “Any real change will require a change in the way research is funded,” says Anna Lewis, arguing that, ideally, universities should prove that their projects are somewhat sustainable before applying for certain funding schemes.

At the same time, the University of Leeds is actively establishing links with other organisations around it. They have set up a network of co-operatives covering the city of Leeds, including the surrounding universities, Yorkshire Ambulance Service, City Council and Yorkshire Water. Lucy Stuart said such collaboration was essential to tackle the problem of single-use plastics on campus, as they were all part of the local economy and had economic interests that ensured that school research and innovation could be used in a locally beneficial way.

Over the past decade, University College London has reduced carbon emissions on campus by 27%, zero landfills and built eco-friendly buildings. By the end of this year, University College London will no longer invest in companies involved in fossil fuel extraction or production, and will disclose its portfolio. In the future, the school plans to achieve zero carbon emissions on all buildings on campus by 2024 and zero carbon emissions across the school by 2030, including ending the supply of meat to school catering and hospitality.

Professor Michael Arthur, president of University College London, said: “Universities have a responsibility to lead this environmental and social lying change. We should pre-empt, mobilize employees and students on campus, and inspire the next generation of young people to change the world. “

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