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In the era of carbon budgets and nationally declared contributions, actions that reduce energy use within labs are increasingly recognised as opportunities for organisations to help meet local and national carbon reduction pledges. The collective emissions generated in the manufacture and use of large pieces of lab equipment in particular, can amount to 30-50% of energy draw of, for example, a university campus. In a recently published article from Ireland’s Marine Institute, two walk-in freezers were reported to use approximately 22,000 kwh per annum1, nearly six times the 4,200 kwh used each year by the average Irish household2.
In a S-Labs Workshop event held in Imperial College London in June 2019, Allison Hunter reported that 17.6 kwh are used per -80 freezer, per day, translating into an annual consumption of 6,424 kwh per freezer. A copy of her report is freely available via the S-Labs website. Click here to access presentation slides3. The University of Colorado Boulder, provides a helpful guide to choosing a low temperature storage unit, including advice on fridges freezers. Visit this site for more information.
HVAC systems (heating/ventilation/air-conditioning) are a major energy draw in labs. In her presentation to the first My Green Lab summit, held in march 2020, Alison Farmer explained that HVAC uses 50-75%, while lab equipment uses 20-25% and lighting, 10-15%. In addition to the freezers discussed above, fume hoods consume huge amounts of energy. When staff at Ireland’s Marine Institute installed ChemtrapTM filtration systems, enabling a switching off of vented hoods, this led to 40% energy savings1.
Water is a precious commodity that is managed in the Republic of Ireland by the semi-state body, Irish Water. Its importance is beautifully illustrated in the ‘Story of Water’ documentary (click here to view). The Irish Lab community is at an early stage of efforts to reduce water usage in labs. De-ionised water and water baths will be found in most labs, but more specialist condensers and cooling systems are more common in chemistry labs. Useful information on how to reduce the use of water within labs is available via websites outside Ireland. For example, the University of Boulder Colorado’s Green Lab program recommends the use of waterless condensers for chemistry synthesis reactions, water misers on autoclaves, leading to a possible 90% reduction in water used. Low flow aerators are also recommended for lab sinks. Click here for more details.
There is little need to persuade the lab greening community that waste reduction should be a major focus. All lab protocols and processes can be said to generate waste in one form or another. For example, the manufacture of lab products and equipment generates greenhouse gas emissions, their use in the lab may do the same. End-of-lab-product-life is another waste contributor. The five Rs of Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, Rot are a useful prompt for best practices. For typical example of wasted single-use plastic lab products, see Fig. 1.
A superb example of reduced use of plastics in a microbiology lab was published by staff in the world-renowned Roslin Institute1. Staff catalogued and tracked the use of seven single-use plastics, to define the baseline, before substituting some for non-plastic alternatives e.g., metal inoculation loops and wooden inoculation sticks replaced plastic versions. A detailed protocol for decontamination, washing and sterilising selected plasticware for reuse, was also provided. This approach led to a 43 kg reduction in plastic waste by seven microbiologists, over four weeks1. Closer to home, staff in the Marine Institute were creative in their approach to reducing single-use plastics in the lab. In addition to substituting some single-use plastics with washable glass alternatives, they substituted 200 ml shellfish sample containers with a compostable cardboard alternative. For more details, see ‘Case Studies’ section of website.
Further guidance on approaches to reducing lab waste can be found under cross-cutting themes/resources and the My Green Lab website. https://www.mygreenlab.org/waste.html.
No lab greening programme would be complete without efforts aimed at reducing the impact that chemicals have on individuals using them, as well as on the environment Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” is credited by many to have triggered the environmental movement, leading to improved controls of hazardous chemicals worldwide, such as the passing of the US Pollution Prevention Act in 1990. After Paul Anastas coined the term ‘Green Chemistry’ in 1991, tighter regulation of the cross-border movement of chemicals was instigated.
The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry were co-authored by Anastas and John Warner in 1998 and are publicised widely by the American Chemical Society. Extensive resources for each principle are freely available via the ACAS website.
The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry
The impact of these principles seems to have been recognised by many chemistry sub-disciplines, as evidenced by recent green chemistry-themed publications1-10.
Analytical chemists may find the publication by Galuzka et al (2013), entitled “The 12 principles of green analytical chemistry and the SIGNIFICANCE mnemonic of green analytical practices” particularly useful11.