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Sustainability in the Lab: an On-Going Journey

Jan-Hendrik Bebermeier Lab Academy

Energy-guzzling ULT freezers, biohazardous waste, radioactive markers, large bags of used plastic tips and tubes, noisy instruments or devices with unergonomic handling, 24/7 science jobs, limited job contracts and budgets. There are a number of question marks when it comes to sustainability in the laboratory.

This article appeared first in BioNews, Eppendorf’s customer magazine since 1993.

Sustainability covers the three columns of environmental, social, and economic aspects. Also, there is a special situation in the lab where staff security, sample safety, and expectations towards sustainable progress need to be reconciled. Depending on the product group, we take different approaches on our journey to increased sustainability.

For example, consumables:
Tubes and tips are indispensable in the lab as they safeguard the purity and the safety of samples. However, the resulting enormous amounts of plastic waste – despite good ideas – still cannot be recycled in a proper way. Eppendorf has realized that
the potential for reduction of raw materials used in production on the one hand, and reusing products on the other hand, has not yet been exhausted. We therefore continue to invest large amounts of capital,
as well as time, in the research of more environmentally friendly alternatives to the commonly used single-use oil-based plastics.

For example, instruments:
Centrifuges run only several minutes or hours per day; their power consumption is lower than that of devices which run 24/7 (freezers, incubators, etc.). Nevertheless, by applying new, innovative technology, the power consumption of every new lab instrument can be optimized. Even small improvements benefit the environment.

At the same time, we will never compromise sample safety. For example, when you set the temperature to 4 °C for the purpose of spinning sensitive protein samples, dependable temperature accuracy is a prerequisite as it relates directly to reproducibility and data reliability.

The list of challenges is long. In order to solve them, manufacturers and users will ideally listen to each other and cooperate. The work never ends – it is an on-going journey. On this journey, we not only explore new technologies with respect to green products, but we also researche alternative materials and optimized processes. Each one of these changes has the potential to contribute to progress in the area of sustainability.

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