It has been estimated that lab plastics waste accounted for 5.5 million tons in 2014 (http://www.nature.com/nature/index.html), roughly the combined tonnage of 67 cruise liners. The quantity and variety of waste generated depends on the type of laboratory, as the laboratory and research industry can be broadly defined to include hospitals, universities, pharmaceutical corporations, and regulatory agencies. Every lab is different and creates a mix of natural and synthetic materials, which may include glass, plastic, hybrid material lab garments, and nitrile and rubber gloves.
Laboratory disposables have been fated to linear disposal methods like landfilling and incineration because there is no comprehensive recycling solution for them in the current waste management infrastructure. The economics of recycling creates little incentive to employ alternative recycling solutions for discarded lab disposables, as the cost of collection, separation, and processing for these mixed items is far greater than what the materials are worth.
Thus, many labs do not have well-managed systems for waste disposal, doing nothing for their internal sustainability numbers. Distributors and retailers of lab disposables are in the position to offer custom, regenerative waste solutions.
Houston-based startup Sycamore Life Sciences is a lab supply distributor focusing on consumables and lab equipment that also provides turnkey sustainability solutions for its client base. In partnership with TerraCycle (Trenton, NJ), Sycamore Life Sciences leverages TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box platform of custom recycling boxes for difficult-to-recycle lab consumables by offering them on their website. These boxes solve for items like centrifuge tubes, disposable garments, protective eyewear, and nitrile and latex gloves, as well as more common waste streams like markers and pens, shipping material, and glassware.
Offering recycling solutions for the products they sell adds value for current and potential customers. In a currently inefficient global waste management infrastructure, companies like Sycamore Life Sciences see the massive ROI potential for putting forth the resources to make previously unrecyclable products and packaging nationally recyclable.
Tom Szaky is the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, 121 New York Ave., Trenton, NJ 08638, U.S.A. For more information on the Zero Waste Box recycling platform, visit https://www.terracycle.com.