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Developing a sustainable laboratory

03 Tachwedd 2011

sustainable lab - webDr Paul Brennan and Dr Clive Gregory, School of Medicine with the nitrile gloves

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from across Wales is aiming to tackle waste and shape the laboratory of the future by redesigning the lifecycle of laboratory gloves.

Led by Dr Paul Brennan, of Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, the project brings together talented academics from three Welsh universities and disciplines as diverse as biology, psychology, engineering and business, with the aim of developing a sustainable laboratory.

"Laboratories in Wales generate a lot of waste. Our estimates suggest that a department of 50 people generates in excess of ten tonnes of waste each year," said Dr Brennan. "This is either incinerated or ends up as landfill. Whilst packaging is often recycled, the majority of items used in the laboratory are not. We want to change this."

Initially, the interdisciplinary research team will focus its attention on nitrile gloves, a key laboratory consumable. They will survey the life-cycle of the gloves and identify ways to mitigate landfill waste; investigate options for the production of gloves from renewable sources such as plants, rather than oil-based (non-renewable) processes; identify means of facilitating and promoting the recycling of gloves within laboratories; and study mechanisms to introduce broader behavioural changes with respect to re-using items, and recycling and reducing waste.

Dr Brennan said: "In this project we aim to re-engineer the life-cycle of laboratory gloves. Our long term vision is a laboratory that generates no landfill waste at all. By using laboratory gloves as an exemplar we can develop our approach and identify novel solutions that can be extended to other consumables. Some hazardous material may have to be incinerated, but we believe that by developing new products from sustainable resources, by altering behaviour and by providing the correct infrastructure, a significant amount of laboratory consumables can be recycled or composted."

The project draws on talented scholars from Cardiff University’s Schools of Engineering, Psychology, Medicine, Business and the Sustainable Places Research Institute along with experts from Aberystwyth University and Bangor University.

Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth from the University’s Sustainable Places Research Institute who is part of the research team said: "Our aim is to create a sustainable laboratory - this requires innovative solutions from multiple disciplines. For example, we need to find and grow the correct crops to give us materials that we need to generate hard plastics. We need to develop the chemistry of the plastics to facilitate recycling and composting. We also need scientists to adopt sustainable behaviours and laboratory practices and we need to develop infrastructure to allow safe recycling and composting. This team provides the level of interdisciplinary expertise required for this project."

The research has been funded by the Welsh Crucible, an initiative that brings together bright thinkers from different academic disciplines and industries across Wales to find solutions to some of today’s complex research challenges.

The Welsh Crucible is led by Cardiff University in partnership with the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Glamorgan and Swansea and is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

Related links

Sustainablelabwales Blog

Sustainable Places Research Institute

School of Medicine