When I worked in a chemistry lab, I was always distressed by the amount of waste that was generated. Due to safety concerns, the waste was sent for incineration resulting in significant CO2 and other gaseous emissions into the atmosphere. However, this report of the UK's first recycling process for chemically and biologically contaminated plastic, may mean this no longer need to be the case.
A new company, LabCycle, has developed a process that can separate, shred and decontaminate plastic waste, forming pellets that can then be used by plastic manufacturers to produce new lab supplies. This forms an impressive example of a circular economy.
The model, if widely adopted, could significantly reduce the emissions associated with burning laboratory plastic waste. Further, given that recycling typically uses less energy than the generation of virgin plastic, it could also reduce the emissions associated with the production of the new articles, leading to a double win.
It seems that the process could be widely applicable as it has been shown to provide recycled polyproplyene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyethylene terephalate (PET) materials, which were all suitable as new lab consumables.1 The process is also reported to be protected by a patent / patent application,2 which will hopefully allow LabCycle to capitalize on their innovation and establish themselves in the market, as well as inspire others to develop further recycling methods.
Lastly, the development appears to be well timed as the continual development of high throughput automation methods is allowing for faster and more extensive experiments but can often lead to even more waste. I therefore look forward to seeing how this field develops in the future.
She showed me a petri dish, made out of the recycled plastic. It is a little cloudier than the original from virgin plastic, but otherwise identical.
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