Wear it Out, Send it Back: Vendor Take-Back Programs for Labs

As any science student knows, laboratory settings are extremely resource-intensive. Tufts’ Campus Sustainability Council confirmed this in their 2013 report, stating that lab and hospital buildings have a disproportionately large environmental impact. Unfortunately, much of the material waste produced in labs is unavoidable. Items like pipette tips and vials are demanded in enormous quantities and typically cannot be recycled. Despite these difficulties, steps can be taken to minimize the amount of material that ends up in the landfill.

Emily Edwards, the Engineering Lab Coordinator and Eco-Ambassador in the SciTech building, continually tries to reduce waste in her labs. She collects and recycles packing materials like Styrofoam coolers, commonly used for transporting biomaterials, and tries to reduce the use of disposable materials like paper towels. SciTech also has a large electronics-recycling bin, ensuring that worn-out lab and office equipment is not sent to the landfill. Sanjukta Ghosh, a biology lab coordinator at 200 Boston Ave., has also taken steps to reduce lab waste, most notably her participation in vendor take-back programs.

 

What are vendor take-back programs?

Vendor take-back is an increasingly common practice whereby a product can be returned to the company that sold it at the end of its useful life. Many companies have begun to offer take-back services voluntarily, although it is up to the consumer to participate in these programs. Vendor take-back has a number of advantages over traditional waste disposal, and has the potential to greatly increase environmental sustainability. For example, vendors of electronics may offer to collect and safely recycle them, preventing them from ending up in landfills. In addition, many vendors will take back packaging materials from their products and reuse them. This reduces waste, and also saves the vendor money and resources. Interestingly, the vendor take-back model places the onus on retailers to safely dispose of their products, rather than passing this responsibility on to the consumer.

It is important for consumers to take advantage of existing take-back programs, especially in equipment-intensive settings like university labs, in order to reduce their waste output and environmental impact. Agilent and Eppendorf are two such companies that have programs in place to collect worn out lab products. Large equipment pickup may only be offered with the purchase of a replacement product, but pickup is often free for smaller items. Details vary by company, and it is typically necessary to make arrangements for pickup with a local representative.

As lab equipment retailers are becoming more environmentally conscious, they now offer a wide array of services toincrease sustainability. For example, some companies offer refillable pipette tip boxes, which saves packaging and is typically cheaper too! These include:

  • Ranin
  • USA Scientific
  • VWR

Many lab vendors have also begun developing products that use less materials, and some offer specialized programs like solvent recycling. Finally, many companies will take back their own packaging materials for free, using pre-paid shipping labels. Some of these companies are used by Tufts, and include:

  • New England Biolabs
  • Qiagen
  • Sigma Aldrich

Although this practice does divert material from the landfill, it can still have environmental drawbacks. For example, because Styrofoam is so porous and light, transporting coolers back to the distributor for reuse can actually have a larger carbon footprint than manufacturing new ones.

 

Onsite Supply Center

While the waste associated with shipping equipment and reagents to labs may seem unavoidable, many universities have already implemented a simple solution. Instead of individually mailing each new order of lab materials, a supply center can be set up onsite to provide campus labs with the materials they demand. This system virtually eliminates packaging, as items are delivered in bulk to the campus supply center, where they are stored and then picked up as needed by lab personnel. As an added bonus, onsite supply centers tend to save money, as items no longer need to be individually shipped to campus, and vendors may offer discounts for bulk purchases. Although Tufts does not currently have any supply centers, in the future this could be a cost-effective way to minimize unnecessary waste.

 

Tips to Reduce Lab Waste

Always recycle when possible – common lab materials (like cardboard boxes from gloves) often end up in the landfill when they could easily be recycled. Make sure that you know which materials are recyclable, and always place them in the appropriate bin. For more information on recycling at Tufts, visit the recycling website.

Keep track of inventory – know what materials you already have on hand, and only purchase the needed amount. Properly labeling and storing reagents also ensures that others can use them in the future.

Properly dispose of e-waste – old electronics, batteries, light bulbs, and similar items can be diverted from the landfill by placing them in their designated specialty-recycling bins, which may vary by building. This ensures that they will be safely disposed of, while salvaging useful materials. Empty Ink and toner cartridges can often be mailed back to manufacturers to be refilled.

Donate equipment – even better than recycling unwanted, functional equipment is donating it to other institutions. On the flip side, you can receive equipment donations from other labs, which saves money too! Finally, Tufts employees can subscribe to the freecycle e-list, and donate or request items within the Tufts community.

Purchase environmentally friendly materials – many vendors offer refillable or recyclable items like pipette tip boxes. Look for more sustainable alternatives to commonly used lab materials!

 

Taking steps such as trading in old equipment or refilling pipette tip boxes may seem small, but they can contribute to a significant decrease in lab waste. Implementing these actions can help transform resource-intensive labs into pinnacles of sustainability on campus.

 

Grafton Campus Waste Station Checklist

Recently, you may have noticed some big changes in recycling on the Grafton campus: all recycling is now mixed, meaning there are now only types two bins at waste stations across campus: trash and recycling! 

Research shows that an effective way to capture more recyclables is to pair trash containers with recycling containers. Your waste station should have BOTH types of bin listed below:  

Gray trash bin with white “landfill” label 

Gray recycling bin with: 

  • Blue “mixed recycling” label 
  • Light blue bag 
  • Blue UFO-shaped lid 
Complete waste station

Now, that’s a good looking waste station!

If the waste station in your office or classroom doesn’t look like the photo above, please submit a work order that will go to Facilities Services.

During the transition to mixed recycling, Tufts strategically reduced the number of waste stations in each building. This helps with efficiency (regarding the time to empty bins) and sustainability (reducing the number of plastic liners we use reduces our overall impact!). Your original central waste station may have been moved to another area on your floor or removed entirely during the transition, however, please do not move any waste receptacles. If you feel that an error has been made with your waste station please submit a work order and contact recycle@tufts.edu with specific questions.  

 

4 Ways to More Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion has a broad definition. It ranges from buying from and donating to second-hand clothing stores to decreasing the environmental impact of agro-chemicals in cotton production. The question is how can we be more conscious consumers and choose products that are ethically-made and environmentally-friendly?

 

  1. Shop from thrift stores and second-hand clothing stores.

Did you know it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans? This number doesn’t even include the water used in washing the pair over its lifetime. Instead of buying new and wasting another 1,800 gallons of water, try thrifting your next pair. From Boston Garment District’s wide variety of thrifting opportunities to consignment shop chain 2nd Time Around’s high-end selections, there are so many local thrifting opportunities to check out in the Boston area!

 

  1. Sell or donate used clothes that you no longer wear.

A good way of getting rid of things you don’t want is to post on the Tufts Facebook Buy and Sell page or the Tusk Marketplace. Through these platforms, other students can purchase items second-hand from you—so you can make money while you downsize your wardrobe. You can also bring your clothes to sell at stores like Buffalo Exchange or donate to others like Goodwill. In April, check out the annual Eco-Reps clothing swap where students can donate and trade clothes for free!

 

  1. Think twice before buying more clothes.

In the age of fast fashion, we are quick to buy trendy pieces and abandon those no longer in style. Clothing sales have been skyrocketing — the fast fashion industry is expected to hit $2.1 trillion by 2025. These days, consumers buy 60% more clothes that they keep for half as long as people did just 15 years ago. Also, synthetic fibers like polyester emit 3 times more carbon dioxide than cottonduring their lifecycle. Rather than spending money on larger quantities of cheap clothes that create huge environmental impacts, consider investing in a few, long-lasting, high-quality pieces of clothing. Remember that you can find quality pieces at thrift stores without spending a fortune!

  1. Ask your favorite brands how your clothes are made.

Fashion Revolution Week calls attention to social justice in the fashion industry. This April’s Fashion Revolution Week commemorated the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where 1,138 people were killed in 2013 due to unsafe working conditions. Many people have instagrammed and tweeted at the brands that make their clothes with the hashtag #whomademyclothes, building awareness of these disconnects between fashion producers and consumers. Small actions like these can pressure clothing companies to be more conscious of, accountable for, and transparent about their sustainability efforts, treatment of workers, and production methods.

Watch the following ENVS Lunch & Learn Presentation to look at the environmental impact of clothing manufacturing and some of the cutting edge innovations from science and technology that are leading to breakthroughs in more sustainable production.

 

Reusable Plates of Boston 2017

On Tuesday, June 6th, President Monaco hosted the second of three President’s Picnic at the Boston Campus. These annual zero-waste events bring together the Tufts community to celebrate another year of hard work. The zero waste initiative at each of these picnics encourages attendees to BYOP — Bring Your Own Place-setting — which reduces waste created from disposable dishes, cutlery, and cups.

Condiments and drinks were served in bulk, rather than individual packets, to further reduce packaging waste.

Recycling interns helped sort recycling and compost at special Zero Waste Stations.

Attendees who brought their own dishes could also win special, sustainable prizes! This year, the first fifty won a reusable paper towel.

Attendees did a fantastic job helping us keep this event zero-waste. We hope everyone enjoyed the great food and company and will continue these sustainable practices into the future!

Click for recaps from the Medford President’s Picnic and the Grafton Presidents Picnic.

Reusable Plates of Grafton 2017

On the beautiful day that was last Thursday, June 8th, President Monaco hosted the third President’s Picnic at the Grafton Campus. These annual zero-waste events bring together the Tufts community at each campus to celebrate another year of hard work. The zero waste initiative at each of these picnics encourages attendees to BYOP — Bring Your Own Place-setting — which reduces waste created from disposable dishes, cutlery, and cups.

 

At Grafton’s events, attendees were able to wash their reusable dishware after the picnic at a Dish Rinsing Station.

With direction and support from Facilities, everything at the picnic was recycled or composted to reduce waste. This was made possible by the use of only reusable, recyclable, or compostable plates and utensils.

Drinks and condiments were served in bulk to avoid the wasteful packaging of single serving packaging.

About half of all attendees brought their own dishware entered the chance to win a raffle prize of a reusable picnic set for two!

Thank you to everyone who came and helped make this event a zero-waste picnic. We hope everyone enjoyed the great food and company and will continue these sustainable practices into the future!

Click for recaps from the Medford President’s Picnic and the Boston Presidents Picnic.

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