Category: Energy (page 3 of 18)

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.

 

The Silver Lining for Climate in Politically Uncertain Times

Content based on the 150th Environmental Studies Lunch and Learn given to professors, staff, and students at Tufts University. Every week during the academic year, the Lunch & Learn lecture series features speakers from government, industry, academia and non-profit organizations to give presentations on environmental topics. This is a great opportunity to broaden your knowledge beyond the curriculum, meet other faculty and students and network with the speakers.

Students, faculty, staff, and members of the community are welcome to attend this lecture series, which is co-sponsored by the Tufts Institute of the Environment and the Tisch College of Civic Life.


Climate Strategy During the Trump Years
Kenneth Kimmell, President, Union of Concerned Scientists

The presidency of Donald Trump poses significant uncertainty about the extent to which the United States will continue to make progress on addressing climate change. Ken Kimmell will explore how the incoming administration might rollback policies that have been put in place to address climate change, and make it more difficult for future administrations to address the issue. He will also discuss the progress that is being made in states and regions of the country and the improving economics of clean energy. He will highlight the strategies that the Union of Concerned Scientists and others are likely to employ to limit the damage to our climate objectives and build upon the progress that is being made.

Like many of us, Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)—a leading science-based nonprofit that combines the knowledge and influence of the scientific community with the passion of concerned citizens to build a healthy planet and a safer world—see the “dark cloud” surrounding the new political climate; however, Mr. Kimmell is hopeful that its “silver lining” will come in the form of positive change from the people.

In his talk at Alumnae Lounge this March, Ken discussed the darkness in terms of threatened democracy and a “very confused citizenry.” The new administration has been riddled by what Mr. Kimmell refers to as a “factless presidency,” upheld by “alternative facts” and dominated by the belief that climate change is a hoax. Meanwhile, Congress is increasingly captive to special interests that wish to deregulate industries and thwart protection of the environment and human health. And, every day an increasing amount of fake news is published in the media, leading the public to lose trust in the institutions of media, government, and academia to try to “separate fact from fiction.”

At the same time, climate change continues to be a reality faced by many. The Paris Agreement, a global agreement between 197 signatory countries to address and reduce climate change, makes ambitious goals for the U.S. Kimmell explains that this agreement has not been ratified through the Senate and with the new administration’s determination to repeal and prevent climate policy, it will be a great challenge to meet the goals set by the Paris agreement. The administration’s “scorched earth” tactics to dismantle comprehensive climate policy create a long lasting impact on the viability of climate policy. These tactics work hand-in-hand with the government’s “censorship of science” to created what Mr. Kimmell refers to as “Climate Denial 3.0,” in which people do not argue whether or not climate change exists, but instead feel that this determination and proceeding action cannot be made before further “debate and dialogue.” There is a real possibility more funding will be granted to the fringe theories in this “continuing debate,” creating propaganda that sows doubt instead of producing policy upheld by over 20 years of federally-collected data on climate change.

While it may seem a bleak future for the climate movement, Kimmell sees a silver lining in “opportunities to resist, build power, broaden the environmental movement, and revitalize it.” He observes that with “lightning speed, resistance is forming.” People are ready and organizing to mobilize, protect, and expose injustice in changes to federal policy. He also sees the court room as a safety net built into our government, as its decisions and actions are based in factual evidence for actions taken. While the federal government is lagging behind in climate leadership, many cities and states are taking initiative to create climate strategies and goals for increased reliance on renewable energy, clean energy job creation, carbon pricing, cap and trade, zoning codes for smart growth, diversion of food waste, and investment in public transport.

With all this to contend with, what can we do as residents, citizens, students, and academics? Kimmell advises us to lead by example within our institutions, mentioning as an example UCS’s recent divestment from fossil fuels. Another way to make change is to join local movements of resistance and get more civically engaged, contacting your members of Congress and local representatives. There are also national opportunities to stand up in resistance, including the March for Science—focusing on how science and academia can publish, communicate, and engage to reach the groups who need their help—and the People’s Climate March—working to acknowledge the issues of climate, justice, and jobs—both of which are coming up at the end of April.

We have the power to make our voices heard on climate change—a universal issue that “reaches across all people, animals, and landscapes,” and impacts disproportionately the health and security of low-income communities and communities of color. It is important that the environmental movement work with environmental justice communities to elevate the priority of climate change and resist deliberate inaction and oppression collectively.

 

Intern, MassDEP (Various Locations)

The Department of Environmental Protection is the state agency responsible for ensuring clean air and water, the safe management of toxics and hazards, the recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, the timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills, and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources. In an effort to assist MassDEP with its succession planning, MassDEP continues to recruit individuals who are interested in working and utilizing their skills in the environmental field. MassDEP is providing opportunities to undergraduate students, graduate students, law school students, and other individuals who are seeking experience in the environmental field.

Application Deadline: November 25th
Apply Online

Electric and Low Carbon Internship, City of Cambridge (Cambridge, MA)

The intern will be responsible for a variety of tasks related to the development of the City’s electric vehicle and other low carbon vehicle fuel strategies. Duties will focus on best practice and new technology research and analysis of policy and program options for Cambridge.  In addition, the candidate will provide basic administrative support for program development and other activities as needed in the division. Visit their website for more information.

Application Deadline: November 30, 2016
Apply Here

Conference Scholarship, BuildingEnergy (Boston, MA)

The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) is now accepting scholarship applications for students to attend the BuildingEnergy Boston Conference + Trade Show on March 8th, 2017. Current voc/tech, college, and graduate students passionate about renewable energy, sustainable building, and high-performance design are encouraged to apply for this scholarship. We are calling upon members of our extended community to help us spread the word to qualified students.
Application Deadline: November 30, 2016
Apply Online
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