November 2020 − Eppendorf News
Environmental concerns continue to gain in importance during manufacturing as well as the use of laboratory consumables. How can sustainability and the high demands placed on these products be reconciled?
Pipette tips, petri dishes, plates – consumables made from plastic are in use in laboratories worldwide. This translates to an approximate 5.5 million tons of plastic waste that is generated in laboratories each year. As a result, lab managers, scientists and life science companies like Eppendorf are paying attention to the question: how can we reduce the use of plastic in the lab without jeopardizing product quality, and are there more environmentally friendly alternatives?
Research in this area focuses primarily on plastic recycling. The problem: the demands on laboratory consumables with respect to purity, precision, consistency and robustness cannot always be satisfied using current recycling practices. For this reason, in the laboratory environment, recycled plastic can only be used in applications that are not entirely dependent on purity – for example, packaging. Chemical recycling constitutes a possible alternative; however, a current study out of the Netherlands shows that at this time, chemical recycling is still considerably more energy intensive than mechanical recycling of plastics. As a result, the CO₂ footprint is worse in comparison.
Neither bioplastic nor glass
What about bioplastics – i.e. plastics made from renewable biomass such as bioethanol or cellulose, which are independent of crude oil? The necessary acquisition of large amounts of raw material constitutes a major disadvantage, not least because it competes with food and feed production. Furthermore, it is currently not possible to demonstrate that bioplastics products possess an environmental compatibility that is at least equivalent to that of products made from traditional plastics.
Avoid and reduce
Even glass is not a suitable alternative: the transition from glass to plastic was consciously promoted. The arguments in favor of plastic included its lesser weight as well as increased impact resistance. As such, the efforts of Eppendorf with respect to increased sustainability in the laboratory now focus on avoiding and reducing the use of raw materials in the products themselves as well as in packaging and storage. Eppendorf’s new approach to changing the design and shape of its innovative products accordingly demonstrates how implementation can be achieved.
The new epT.I.P.S.® rack design for our pre-sterilized pipette tip variants saves considerable amounts of polypropylene plastic (PP) – between 19 and 35 percent, depending on the rack size, compared to previous racks. This is a convincing argument for Eppendorf customers for whom the reduction of plastic is a growing concern. “Our customers´ requirements and the laboratory applications in which our products are being used do currently require the use of high quality plastic consumables”, says Hans-Christian Stuff, Head of Consumables Divisions at Eppendorf.
An additional advantage: the users of the new racks will also benefit from the new design and its optimized functionality:
• The slim rack format is now easy to carry, even for small hands
• Even safer: the lid is resealable after use
• All rack sizes can be stacked safely on top of each other
Something else the user will appreciate: the material that is used for the components of the new epT.I.P.S.® racks – i.e. lids, base and trays – is polypropylene (PP) that can* be recycled in suitable facilities. In addition, Eppendorf continues to strive towards using materials for its consumables which will satisfy all criteria – for sustainability as well as user needs – in the near future.
Our Eppendorf Handling Solutions website offers more on the topic of sustainability of consumables:
* The appropriate disposal procedures for laboratories as described in the legislative framework for waste management in your country must be complied.
Those who would like to know more about how sustainability in the laboratory is made possible through small changes, Eppendorf has developed the poster “How to Become More Sustainable in Your Lab“. The motto: reduce, reuse, recycle! The poster is included in this issue of the magazine, and it is also available via the following link: