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Labs around the world produce tremendous amount of plastic waste

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Posted January 1, 2016

Scientists around the world are calling for action to battle pollution and other environmental issues. However, how much of environmental issues can be attributed to science itself?

Although not all plastic in labs can be re-used, because of contamination or biological hazards, scientists should seek reduction of plastic waste of the labs. Image credit: Cjp24 via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Although not all plastic in labs can be re-used, because of contamination or biological hazards, scientists should seek reduction of plastic waste of the labs. Image credit: Cjp24 via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

In a new study, scientists from the University of Exeter have estimated that laboratories from around the globe are responsible for 1.8 % of total global plastic production, waste which weighs the equivalent of 67 cruise ships a year. Now scientists are calling for reduction of this plastic waste.

At first, group of scientists focused on their own university. It turns out that the 280 scientists in their own bioscience department at the University of Exeter generated roughly 267 tonnes of plastic waste last year.

Labs around the world are not more environmentally friendly, which means that globally 20,543 biologically-oriented research institutions are producing 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. This is because budgets of researches are limited. Scientists have to use cheaper equipment, which means that plastic is disposable and not bio-degradable. Bio-degradable plastic cannot be used in some cases because it can alter research results. All of this means that a lot of this plastic ends up in landfills.

Researchers are calling labs from around the world and research community as such to prioritise the potential environmental impact of plastics over the cost of research and to reduce plastic waste.

Erin Reardon, member of the research team, said: “When we started doing the calculations for this exercise, using data provided by the University of Exeter Sustainability Office, I expected the contribution of research to the global plastic problem to be almost negligible – but we were surprised at how high the estimate is. At a time when governments are imposing charges for single use plastic bags and bottles, we think the scientific research community could be working towards reducing its dependency on plastic, and could be doing so without sacrificing scientific standards”.

Surely, transition to more environmentally friendly equipment is not going to be easy. However, scientists note that science should not be cheap. Instead, it has to be responsible. It is impossible to remove all plastic equipment from the labs, but at least some of the items used have to be re-usable. This research is supposed to start discussions and in the future green factor of the research may be one of the arguments to get the financial grants.

Source: exeter.ac.uk

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