Congratulations to staff in the Marine Institute on the publication of their research article last month in the Public Library of Science Sustainability and Transformation journal. The paper, entitled “Reducing environmental impacts of marine biotoxin monitoring: A laboratory report” provides details of specific interventions applied to single-use plastics, polystyrene packaging, hazardous chemicals, paper, and energy. We applaud the way in which the authors took a ‘cradle-to-grave’ approach, by interrogating practices from collection of shellfish samples, through to testing for the regulated marine biotoxins.
Just over 3,000 shellfish samples were tested for biotoxins in the Marine Institute in 2019, requiring 5,700 tests for 23 different analytes. The first opportunity for improved sustainability was the diversion from landfill/incineration of polystyrene boxes in which shellfish samples were shipped from all over Ireland to the institute. Boxes are now cleaned prior to being compacted for recycling by Offaly-based ‘Waste Matters’ (https://wastematters.ie/waste-matters), into fish boxes or insulation for the construction industry. Next, all shellfish waste was sent for composting and 200 mL plastic containers, previously used to hold shellfish samples, were replaced by a compostable cardboard equivalent.
This approach has allowed unused fish meat and shells to break down in a controlled, more sustainable way, generating high-value feedstock that can be used in organic farming. Where feasible, plastic centrifuge tubes and plastic syringes used to hold and process samples during testing, were replaced with reusable glass equivalents. The data generated while using the glassware alternative was validated in parallel against tests carried out using the original plastic items.
Overall, the authors achieved an impressive 95% reduction in non-chemical waste sent to landfill/incineration, from 4,000 kg to 130 kg. Next, a simple extension of the expiry dates of solvents used in chromatography and only preparing what was required led to a 23% reduction (300 litres) in hazardous chemicals (mostly comprising acetonitrile, methanol, and water). Analytical data that had previously been printed is now stored digitally leading to a reduction in printing of 81%. Finally, a 30% reduction in energy consumption was achieved by installing ChemtrapTM filtration systems in the fume hoods (enabling them to be powered down when not in use), and by taking 11 freezers out of use. Other more sustainable behavioural changes include pulling down fume hood sashes and powering down laboratory equipment after use.
Meticuluous tracking of expenditure needed to implement new practices, was compared to savings achieved by paying less for processing of waste and for electricity and chemicals, showing an overall cost saving of almost €16,000 per year.
This work demonstrates very clearly how a focus on a small number of protocols, within the context of a specific set of specialist lab tests, can save money, while at the same time providing a clear path to more sustainable lab practices. Not only is this better for the health of those working in the lab, but cheaper practices help to protect our environment!
Click here to access the full report.
For further information, contact Dr Jane Kilcoyne, firstname.lastname@example.org.