In 2021, an internationally recognised university took part in a study into their wastages. This study showed that 97% of their waste came from single-use pieces of equipment. The number one item on that list is single-use pipette tips. The estimated 1800 tonnes of waste is an incredible figure, but the more shocking figure is that single-use plastics make up for 46% of this dead weight produced by the organization. Single-use pipettes are a requirement within the scientific fields of study, but these vast figures being wasted are adding to the extremely well-documented plastic issues plaguing the planet’s oceans and landfill sites. Although these vital pieces of equipment cannot be removed from practice, there are ways that the scientific community can use them with increased efficiency.
Using Recyclable Plastics
With laboratories producing plastic waste figures of 5.5 million tonnes annually, now could be a great time for these institutions to consider streamlining their use of plastics. One way to do this is by investing in plastics that can be recycled. When referring to the biggest waste (plastic pipettes), they are generally constructed using low-density polyethene or polypropylene. These plastics tend to be single-use and fail to be recycled, and many companies have switched to pipettes constructed with polyethene terephthalate or high-density polyethene constructions, which can be recycled by most waste management companies across the world. Switching suppliers may be at a cost but can be extremely beneficial in terms of cost in the long run, as many of these tips can be reused if the correct washing techniques are used.
Reusing Existing Stock
Pipette tips are likely preferred as single-use tools, and the risk of contaminating a long-term project because you are reusing a pipette tip may feel foolish. Many organizations have turned to using higher quality materials, which they can wash using dedicated machinery or auto cladding techniques, which allows multiple uses for these famous old consumables. This can save some of the larger organizations millions in plastic costs and dramatically reduce their carbon footprint.
Most modern scientific machinery can be based on cleaning existing products, allowing for reusability, or even replacing the use of plastics. For example, this machine used for Solutions for non-contact liquid handling is designed to wash microwell plates, and without this dedicated machinery, it is very likely that plastic pipettes would be used to clear these cell containers and simply tossed in the trash because they had been consumed for a simple cleaning task. Investing in the correct machinery is not only effective for research, but it can also have associated effects, such as reducing your plastic usage.
Switching Back to Glass
Although glass was largely replaced with single-use plastics many scientific communities are returning to their traditions and wheeling out the old racks of glass tubing. These pipettes require chemical treatment to clean and sanitise so they can be considered bad for the environment in their way. However, for some experiments, in which weaker experiments are taking place, it may be an option to pull out these classics providing they will not require such a deep chemical clean upon usage.
Single-use pipettes are a staple of the scientific community, and whilst the consumable tool cannot be replaced, it can be streamlined to fit with the future and reduce the negative effects plastic waste is having on the natural environment.