Tips for a Zero-Waste Lab

Labs produce an enormous amount of waste. Some of it is hazardous and has to be disposed of in a specific way, but much of it isn’t and can be recycled or, even better, avoided! Here are some easy tips to keep your lab trash almost (if not completely) empty.


  1. Get used to reuse.

We are now used to everything being disposable and made of plastic, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Glassware is not only good for the environment but it can also be good for your experiements (plastic leaches chemicals that may affect your results) and your lab finances.


You can use…

Instead of…

Glass bottles

Plastic conical tubes

Glass pipettes

Disposable plastic pipettes

Beakers or other reusable container

Plastic weighing boats

Glass culture dishes

Disposable plastic culture dishes

Glass pasteur pipettes

Disposable tips


Bench Diapers

Mop (for non-toxic spills)

Bench Diapers


  1. Reuse the disposable.

Even if something is disposable you don’t need to throw it away after the first use. You can wash (and sterilize if necessary) disposable materials such as conical tubes and eppendorfs. There is even a system to wash and sterilize plastic tips for reuse!  If you wash and reuse your glassware, why not your plasticware too?


  1. Demand sustainable packaging.

The amount of packaging (most of it imposible or hard to recycle) in all lab products is insane. But companies listen to their customers. Write or talk to vendors to demand less or no plastic packaging, or to adopt policies to take back and reuse or recycle their products and packaging.

Also, when possible, buy from vendors that already offer these options. For example, Sigma and NEB will take and reuse their styrofoam boxes; Falcon/Corning will take any packaging of their products; and Kimberly-Clark will recycle their gloves and other protective materials (although the lab has to pay for shipment).


  1. Reuse packaging materials.

Or even better: create a Reuse Packaging Room in your institution and collect styrofoam boxes and ice packs for reuse. Donate the excess ones to companies or institutions that will use them.


  1. Recycle.

Although it’s better to reduce or reuse, recycling is better than throwing to the trash. Make recycling easy in the lab by placing recycling bins in convenient places and labeling the bins very clearly so that there are no confusions.

All these lab items can be recycled if placed in the correct bin and following appropriate guidelines:


Containers have to be rinsed and labels erased. NO hazardous materials.

Rigid plastic: media bottles, conical tubes, plastic plates, eppendorfs.

Glass: Glass containers.

Metal: aliminium foil, cans, metal containers.



Clean and dry

Flexible plastic: plastic bags, wrappings from disposable plates/pippetes…, plastic film, plastic wrapping, air cushions and bubble wrap, plastic envelopes.

Locations: Plaza lobby (near the ATM and T-shirt Shop), Bronk 2nd Floor Lobby, Founder’s Hall A Floor (near the Mailroom) and Flexner Hall A Floor Looby.



NO food stains

Paper: paper, boxes, cardboard.

NO paper tissues and towels.

You can also leave printer toners for recycling on the rack next to the Storeroom. And Glasswashing Services offers a pickupservice to collect and recycle pipette rip boxes.


  1. Share/Donate.

Share reagents with other lab members and neighboring labs. Have very organized boxes of antibodies, enzymes, kits, etc. to make sure reagents are fully used and don’t expire. You can even create a Reagent Sharing Program in your institution, as this one in the University of Michigan:

For thing you no longer need, offer them through Classifieds (also great if you just need a very small amount or want to try something before purchasing a new product). For equipment that is in good working condition you can donate it through Seeding Labs (in collaboration with Sigma), a fantastic program to send research equipment to scientists that desperately need it worlwide.


  1. Purchase in bulk.

Purchase 95% ethanol by the gallon in reusable containers. Buy larger size of reagents if you know that you’ll use the whole thing (otherwise it’s better to just order the amount you need).


  1. Spread the word.

Talk to your lab memebers about the importance of running a sustainable lab. It’s not only better for the environment but it will also save money and make the lab more efficient. Getting your PI and your lab manager on board will have the greatest impact. And spread the word to other labs, other departments, other research institutions, other companies, and organizations.


Other resources:


Check also the tips for a zero-waste office, since many of them can be applied to a lab too. And, as always, be in touch if you want to share any suggestions or ideas, or if you want to participate in other Green initiatives on campus.

Labs produce an enormous amount of waste. Some of it is hazardous and has to be disposed of in a specific way, but much of it isn’t and can be recycled or, even better, avoided! Here are some ea