Recycling and Waste Minimization

Labs on campus produce a lot of waste. Think about the number of items (plastic, chemicals, glass, paper, gloves, electronics, etc.) you use each time you run an experiment or go out into the field. In 2019, UT’s research labs produced just over 185,000 lbs. of hazardous waste alone! The good news is that a big proportion of the waste produced in labs can be minimized through sustainable purchasing, participating in Lab Supply Swaps, utilizing Surplus, borrowing supplies or equipment, and other simple actions.

While recycling and composting are great options to help reduce the number of items we send to the landfill, the first step to waste minimization is reducing the number of items we are purchasing and using in the first place. Remember, first we want to think about how we can reduce our consumption, then how we can reuse items, and lastly, how to recycle items that we cannot otherwise avoid using.

Lab Supply Swap

One of the best ways to reduce waste in your lab and avoid unnecessary purchasing is to participate in the Green Labs Lab Supply Swap held once per semester. The goal of the Lab Supply Swap is to help keep usable lab items out of the landfill, build community between researchers, and save labs money. The Lab Supply Swap gives researchers a great opportunity to clear out unneeded items from their labs, such as lab consumables, office supplies, and field equipment (see list of acceptable and unacceptable items below), and take back other donated items back to their lab for FREE, even they are unable to donate. During our first ever Lab Supply Swap in February 2020, we rehomed over 450 lbs. of lab items saving researchers approximately $24,000 in acquisition costs.

Acceptable items:

  • Lab consumables (ex: gloves, glassware, pipette tips, centrifuge tube racks, lab notebooks)
  • Office supplies (ex: usable ink cartridges, staplers, pens and pencils, printer paper)
  • Field equipment (ex: soil augers, field books, tape measures, sample bottles)

Note: Properly clean items that were located in a lab with a detergent solution before bringing to the Lab Supply Swap. If items were used with hazardous materials, ensure they are decontaminated according to EHS guidelines and attach a completed Lab Equipment Decontamination Form (PDF) to the item.

Unacceptable Items

  • UT tagged items (includes lab equipment/instruments and furniture)
  • Hazardous materials (ex: hazardous chemical, biological waste, lasers, x-rays, radioactive materials, or equipment used with radioactive materials)

Surplus

A great way to reduce the number of items that you are buying for your lab is to utilize Surplus Property. Surplus Property is located at J.J. Pickle Research Campus. They collect items from the university that are no longer being used and redistribute them on campus. You should always check with Surplus first before buying new items for your lab. They have items such as desks, chairs, and tables, computers, other electronics, and laboratory equipment. Also remember that when you no longer need a piece of UT Austin property, it must be collected by Surplus Property.

For more information, check out the Surplus Property web page.

Sustainable Purchasing

When you have to buy an item for your lab, you should practice sustainable purchasing. Sustainable purchasing considers the broader implications of the purchase of goods and services, with an aim to maximize value and minimize environmental and social costs.

When considering purchasing an item, think: Is this item necessary? How was it made? How long will it last? How will it be disposed of? Focus on reducing waste and water and energy consumption (UBC Sustainable Purchasing Guide). Here are just a few ways to practice sustainable purchasing. For further specifics and more information on how to practice sustainable purchasing, check out our Green Labs Manual (coming Fall 2020).

  • Purchase from manufacturers committed to sustainability. Brands such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, Millipore Sigma, and VWR have designated “green” products to make product selection easier.
  • When ordering products online, only use “rush” shipping when absolutely necessary to help reduce the carbon footprint of the delivery process.
  • Purchase bulk items for the lab instead of smaller quantities of the same item for each researcher.
  • Use tools such as Quartzy, a free laboratory management website that can help your lab keep better track of purchasing and inventory to help prevent the purchasing of unnecessary items. 
  • Try to buy reusable items whenever possible. For example, buy refillable pipet tip boxes.

Recycling

The above charts show the averaged results of single-day waste audits performed by Resource Recovery interns in laboratory buildings (NHB, CPE, RLM, BIO, EER/ECJ) at UT. Interns sorted through trash and recycling to get a sense of how accurately we were separating our waste into the correct streams (i.e. recycling, compost, landfill trash).

On average, 71% of waste from NHB, CPE, RLM, BIO, and EER/ECJ went to the landfill in 2019. However, with proper sorting of waste and the introduction of building-scale composting, projected diversion rates show that these lab buildings can decrease the percentage of waste they send to the landfill to 38%!

Help us send less waste to the landfill not only by reducing your consumption and reusing items, but also properly sorting waste into the correct streams. Take a look at the Green Lab Recycling Guidelines below for information how to recycle lab-specific items.

Green Labs Recycling Guidelines

Single-Stream Recycling

  • Many items in your lab can be recycled in the blue single-stream recycling bin in your lab.
  • Uncontaminated items that may be placed in blue single-stream bins are as follows:
    • Paper (staples do not need to be taken out; no waxy paper or laminated paper)
    • Hard plastic (pipette tip boxes can be placed in these bins!)
    • Cardboard
    • Aluminum
  • Do not place in single-stream recycling:
    • Items contaminated with food, liquid, or laboratory waste. Items must be properly cleaned before being recycled.
    • Mixed material items (ex: An item that contains both metal and plastic that you cannot easily and safely separate.)
    • Laboratory glass (Broken glass needs to be placed in your lab’s Glass Disposal Container. (For intact laboratory glass disposal, please click here. Note that usable laboratory glassware can also be brought to the Lab Supply Swap.
    • Expanded polystyrene (a.k.a. Styrofoam), plastic film, or cold packs can be recycled through Green Labs specialty recycling program- more information below.
    • Batteries (Single-use batteries should be recycled through Green Labs. Rechargeable batteries must be disposed of through EHS- more information below.)
    • Scrap metal (Check with your building manager for proper disposal.)
    • Paper towels soiled with chemicals cannot be recycled or composted (Check to see if your building has restroom paper towel composting though!)
  • If you do not have a blue, single-stream recycling bin in your lab, you can request one through Facility Services using this Blue Bin Request Form.
  • For more information about single-stream recycling, please check out Facility Service’s Solid Waste and Recycling webpage.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS; a.k.a. Styrofoam), Cold Packs, and Plastic Film

  • Green Labs works with Hometown Recycling to recycle expanded polystyrene (EPS; commonly referred to as Styrofoam), cold packs, and plastic film generated in UT Austin labs.
  • Collections occur at the MBB loading dock (facing the Nanotechnology building, see map below). For collection times, please subscribe to our EPS, Cold Packs, and Plastic Film Recycling Reminder Email List (see instructions below).
  • To receive reminders about recycling collections, subscribe to our EPS, Cold Packs, and Plastic Film Recycling Reminder Email List:
    • Send an email (from the address you want to subscribe) to sympa@utlists.utexas.edu
    • Note: UT Faculty and Staff must use a UT email address
    • Subject line: subscribe greenlabs_styro_recycling
    • Leave the message body blank
  • To unsubscribe from our EPS, Cold Packs, and Plastic Film Recycling Reminder Email List:  
    • Send an email (from the address you want to unsubscribe) to sympa@utlists.utexas.edu 
    • Subject line: unsubscribe greenlabs_styro_recycling 
    • Leave the message body blank
  • Please DO NOT drop off your recyclables outside of this time frame. Doing so makes it very complicated for us to keep detailed recycling records and ensure that the recycling is not contaminated.
  • When you drop of your recyclables, you will be asked to fill out a quick form so we can keep track of how much each lab group is dropping off.
  • All tape and labels MUST BE REMOVED from EPS and plastic film before coming to the loading dock (see pictures below for examples). Note that if these procedures are not followed, we will expect you to help remove all labels and tape on-site before we are able to accept your materials. Tape and labels interfere with the recycling process and Green Labs is fined if they are not removed. If labels are difficult to remove from the plastic film, we suggest cutting them out with scissors.
  • Please do not bag your EPS. We will place your EPS in large plastic bags when you drop it off. If you would like to bag your plastic film, we have clear plastic bags for your convenience at the locations below. You can also bring your plastic film in an EPS cooler or cardboard box which we can transfer to a large plastic bag when you drop it off. This way we waste less plastic.
    • Plastic bag locations: NHB 1.406, BIO 311, NMS Autoclave Room 3.322, MBB 1.205, BEL 806, PAT 140, BME 3.314
  • Place cold packs in a cardboard box or EPS cooler before coming to the loading dock.
  • Cold packs are reused locally, so please ensure that all cold packs are defrosted, intact and have no leaks.
  • Please count the number of cold packs you have before coming to the loading dock. You will be asked to provide that number to us before you leave.

Acceptable items include:

Unacceptable items include:

Kimberly Clark Brand Nitrile Gloves

  • The Green Labs program provides Kimberly Clark brand nitrile glove recycling though the Kimberly-Clark RightCycle program.
  • To participate in the program, you must first be approved by Green Labs. In order to start recycling gloves in your lab, please send an email request to Green Labs including which lab room the recycling box is being requested for, the PI or staff member who oversees that lab room, and any biological materials the researchers in that lab room work with.
  • EHS will determine glove recycling eligibility of a lab space based on lab hazard levels (determined by chemical volumes, biosafety levels, and use of radioactive material).
  • In general, lab rooms with a lab hazard level of 1 or 2, no biosafety level or a biosafety level of 1, and no use of radioactive materials are eligible to house a glove collection box. Some lab rooms with a biosafety level of 2 might be eligible to participate as well depending on the type of biological material present in the lab. Each lab room will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
  • Please note that recycling privileges will be granted by lab room and not by PI as PIs often oversee multiple lab rooms with different lab hazard and biosafety levels.
  • If EHS determines that a glove collection box can be placed in a lab room, you will be notified by Green Labs and we will schedule a time with you to drop off the glove collection box and give further instructions.
  • Please note that once your collection box is full, your lab group will be in charge of dropping off the gloves to the drop-off location in NHB.
  • Only Kimberly-Clark brand nitrile gloves are able to be recycled.
  • Gloves that have been contaminated with hazardous chemicals, hazardous biological materials, or radioactive materials cannot be recycled! Even if the glove does not have any visible contamination, it might still have trace amounts of hazardous materials. As a good rule of thumb, if you would not touch the glove with an ungloved hand then do not recycle it. This helps us ensure the safety of people handling the gloves during the recycling process.

Batteries

  • Single-use alkaline batteries generated in labs on campus can be dropped off for recycling at Green Labs recycling collections. For more information, please click here.
  • Single-use alkaline batteries generated elsewhere on campus can be dropped off for recycling at SSB. For more information, please click here.
  • All other batteries generated on campus (excluding zinc-carbon, zinc-air, or zinc-chloride batteries which can be placed in landfill trash) must be disposed of though EHS as chemical waste. To submit batteries for disposal thought EHS: Log in with your UT EID and Submit: Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
  • If you need help determining how to dispose of your batteries (i.e. at SSB, through Green Labs, or through EHS), check out this flow chart.

Recycling Locations