Pollution Prevention Ideas for Laboratories
There are numerous ways that laboratory workers can reduce the impact
that our laboratories have on the environment. All laboratory workers
are asked to consider pollution prevention opportunities for all of their
operations. This includes reducing or eliminating chemical use and chemical
waste production; substituting less hazardous materials; conservation
of water or electricity; and any other means of reducing environmental
The following are a number of initiatives that have resulted in waste
minimization and/or pollution prevention in Princeton University laboratories.
If you have any other ideas or successes, please contact Steve Elwood at 258-6271.
- Avoid using fresh solvents for cleaning glassware. Filter and reuse
solvents for this purpose or use Alconox and elbow grease initially.
- If solvents are needed for cleaning, minimize the amount by not simply
using the force of flow from a squeeze bottles.
- Do not use chromium-based glass cleaners (e.g., Chromerge®).
90®, enzymatic cleaners, detergents, etc. can be just as effective.
- For sterilizing equipment, use quaternary amine detergents instead
of isopropyl alcohol.
- Use ethanol instead of methanol in dehydrating and rinsing processes.
- Use ultrasonicators and/or industrial dishwashers instead of solvents for cleaning.
- Purchase better brushes to reduce the temptation of opting for a
solvent for cleaning.
- Keep extra glassware on hand and/or use drying oven to reduce the
need for rinsing with solvent to hasten drying of glassware.
- Use non-mercury thermometers. EHS will replace most thermometers with
compatible digital or alcohol/glycol thermometers upon request FREE OF CHARGE.
- For differential manometers, use water or calibrated oils instead
of mercury or switch to pressure transducers or electronic pressure
- Notify EHS as soon as mercury-filled equipments are taken out of service to ensure timely disposal.
- Upgrade instrumentation or move to automation to conserve energy
and chemical resources.
- Use capillary columns instead of micropore or large-diameter columns
in gas chromatographs or HPLC equipment.
- Use diaphragm pumps instead of those requiring water circulation
to conserve water.
- Replace traditional thermal distillation apparatus with newer “push”,
dry solvent purification systems
for purifying and drying solvents. Eliminates the need for a fume hood
and conserves energy, water and solvents. Minimizes waste production
and significantly reduces fire risk.
- Neutralize acids and bases and pour non-toxic, pH 4-9 material down the
drain. See Elementary Neutralization
for further instruction.
- Add a treatment or deactivation step to experimental procedures to
reduce or eliminate hazardous waste production. Consult EHS for advice.
- Clean up and neutralize spills such that all or most of the waste
can be disposed via the drain or regular trash. See instructions for
- Use charcoal filtration, such as funnel kits or Green Bags®,
to remove ethidium bromide from solutions. This minimizes the amount
of waste and eliminates disposal of bleach solutions down the drain
or the use of other potentially hazardous chemicals for deactivating
the ethidium bromide.
- Replace benzene or carbon
tetrachloride as reagents
or solvents. For example, in the standard qualitative test for halide
ions, cyclohexane and carbon tetrachloride are equally effective for
extracting the halogen. If cyclohexane is used instead of the traditional
carbon tetrachloride, the organic layer of the extract is less hazardous
and is more readily disposed. The same is true of other commonly used
- Simplify procedures to potentially eliminate a step that utilizes
- Use microscale techniques.
- For isolation and purification of DNA, replace chloroform-phenol
extractions with new techniques developed by Promega
(Wizard Preps 800-356-9526) or Stratagene
(Lambda DNA Purification Kit 800-424-5444).
- Use chilled water loops instead of continuously running water for
- For fly morgues, use propylene glycol in place of ethanol. The spent
material can be disposed via the drain.
- Use a modified Davidson's fixative in place of Bouin's fluid (which
contains picric acid) for fixing tissue. See Toxicologic Pathology
30(4):524-533 (2002) for more information and reference (available through University Library Services).
- Review chemical inventory annually. Such review can help avoid
purchase of materials already on hand (but forgotten) and can help
ensure prompt disposal of unneeded materials.
- Purchase smaller quantities to reduce leftover, unusable chemicals.
The American Chemical Society estimates
that 40% of waste generated in research labs consists of unused
- Review laboratory procedures annually. Look for ways to reduce
or eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals.
- Centralize chemical purchasing in your lab. Assigning one person
to purchase chemicals can help reduce the likelihood that duplicate
orders will be made.
- Share unused, unopen containers or unused portions of materials
with other labs.
- Teaching labs are a great place for waste minimization. See Minimizing
Waste in Teaching Labs for more information.
- Seal containers of volatile materials well. Be sure that pumps
fit the container opening to prevent loss of material from evaporation.
- Turn off equipment that is not in use. For example, turn off
the rotary arm of a rotovap when not in use.
- Be prepared for spills. Cleaning up spills can generate a lot
of waste. Minimize the likelihood of spills by using secondary containers.
Have the right kind of spill control materials to minimize the amount
of debris. Consider whether gloves or other protective equipment
is truly contaminated enough to warrant disposal as hazardous waste.
Have an Idea?
Tell EHS about your ideas and your successes in reducing the amount
of hazardous waste generated and/or conservation of energy, water
or other resources. Contact Steve Elwood at 258-6271.