Waste disposal: tips for a greener lab

Waste disposal: tips for a greener lab
© iStock/Елена Черкасова

When it comes to waste disposal, how can laboratory operators implement sustainable practices in order to become greener?

The future of laboratory design must consider the environmental implications of lab practices and waste disposal – particularly when dealing with medical waste and hazardous materials.

Under the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement, the EU has pledged to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 in order to limit the rise in global temperature and combat climate change. MEPs on the Industry Committee highlighted the benefits of widespread transition to renewable energy sources in the effort to eliminate net emissions by 2050. Their proposal encouraged EU leaders to work towards actively promoting clean energy transition and energy efficiency; and noted that increased investment in clean energy innovation projects would boost job opportunities in the field, as well as overall industrial growth.

Bad pharma: reducing pharmaceutical waste in the environment

The European Commission has adopted a Communication detailing actions to be taken to avoid the proliferation of pharmaceutical substances into the environment.

The Strategic Approach to Pharmaceuticals in the Environment report covers every stage of the ‘pharmaceutical life cycle’ in both human and veterinary medicine, from design to production to disposal procedures; and advocates a sustainable approach from every sector of the pharmaceutical industry. The text highlights the hazards posed to fish and other wildlife by improperly discarded pharmaceuticals; and urges cooperation between Member States in order to ensure best practice is followed.

Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: “Most of us have had reason to take some form of medicine in our lives, and we are fortunate that we can be helped in this way. Pharmaceuticals are also essential for ensuring animal health. Many of us are however not aware that some of what is consumed ends up in the environment having an effect on wildlife such as the fish in our rivers. We must reduce the entry of pharmaceuticals into our rivers and soils for our own benefit and in order to protect the wildlife and the environment.”

The communication identifies six primary areas where action must be taken:

  • Increasing awareness of the appropriate use and disposal of pharmaceutical products;
  • Encouraging pharmaceutical producers to develop products which are less “intrinsically harmful” to the environment, while promoting sustainable manufacturing practices;
  • Improving the efficacy of environmental risk assessments;
  • Reducing the amount of pharmaceutical waste produced and encouraging responsible waste disposal practices;
  • Expanding the range and scope of the EU’s environmental monitoring initiatives, in particular gathering extensive data on environmental concentrations of pharmaceutical substances; and
  • Filling miscellaneous gaps in EU knowledge through increased, focused research.

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “It is essential that medicines are safe and effective for our health, however we should be aware of the environmental impact they may have. Drug-resistant bacteria is one of the major health threats world-wide, therefore in our fight against antimicrobial resistance, everyone benefits not only from the prudent use of medicines but also from a well thought-through production and disposing system. It is time for us collectively to draw attention to the risks of the antimicrobials for the environment. This Communication identifies areas where action is needed and serves us as a stepping stone for our future discussions.”

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) recommends the application of the STOP hierarchy of priorities for companies and laboratories managing the inherent risks in handling dangerous substances:

  • Substitution of the dangerous substance;
  • Implementing Technological solutions to minimise the concentration of the substance in the area of exposure;
  • Organisational measures to minimise the number of workers exposed to the substance and the duration of exposure; and
  • The wearing of personal Protective equipment.

The future of lab design

A new Arup report has assessed the future of lab design based on the technological changes to science labs and research facilities. The report identifies that the future of lab design will be impacted by the changing nature of science labs and research facilities, which are becoming increasingly technology-enabled, and conducive to a more open access, data-centric style of research.

Arup notes that labs and research facilities are the creative and technical centre of science. Therefore, they will need to adapt to fit in with changes to the workplace. There is a need to attract and retain talent due to increasing scientific and technological competition, and to do this, the future of lab design will have to focus on achieving a better work-life balance for researchers.

Jennifer DiMambro, the UKIMEA Science Sector Lead at Arup, commented: “This report calls for a rethink of how and where research is conducted and how buildings and places can be designed to enable innovation. The idea of moving towards a more ‘one size fits all’ approach, with greater emphasis on place and occupant experience, marks a significant shift in how science facilities are designed and reflects the changing nature of work.”
The Arup report also offers recommendations for the future of lab design. These recommendations place an emphasis on balancing a digital focus with human-centric improvements to make the lab a more effective workplace.

Key considerations include:

Wellbeing and place

The Arup report recommends that lab design should remain scientifically functional while accommodating the needs and experience of the user more by considering the location of the lab and occupant wellbeing.

Adaptable spaces

The demand for labs to be highly specialised spaces will continue. But lab design should be generic and flexible to allow for as a wide a range of multi-disciplinary scientific research as possible. In practice, this should spaces with the digital connectivity and technological infrastructure to make them adaptable.

Digital disruption

The idea of a traditional lab is being challenged by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and robotics. It follows that the emphasis should be on ‘smart labs’ which can connect scientists working remotely.

Cities as labs

The Arup report suggests providing researchers with access to scientific equipment and research communities outside institutions by providing cloud-based labs, DIY spaces, and living labs.

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