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Green Lab Initiatives Take Root Around the World

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Laboratories of all types can be made greener.

There are now hundreds of programs around the world trying to make research eco-friendlier, developed either in-house or in partnership with organizations such as My Green Lab.

Credit: Aleksei Naumov/iStock

uring the pandemic, postdoc Julie Sesen started to feel overwhelmed by the amount of plastic used by the scientific community. Sesen studies pediatric tumors and cerebrospinal disease at Boston Children's Hospital (BCH), where in 2020 many researchers were testing the community for COVID-19. Every day, researchers there and at scientific centers across the country inevitably threw away hundreds of single-use masks and plastics. Everyone she spoke to agreed that the volume of plastic waste was an issue, she says. "And we needed to do something about it." 

Even before the pandemic, researchers worldwide produced several million tons of plastic waste per year, according to some estimates. But when Sesen looked into how she could recycle the waste she was generating in her lab, she learned that plastic waste was only part of a larger problem. Scientists also use massive amounts of energy, exacerbating pollution and contributing to climate change. Various estimates indicate that a research lab can consume more than three times as much energy as an office of the same size. Common equipment such as fume hoods and ultra-low-temperature freezers can consume as much as an average household. So when Sesen discovered My Green Lab, a nonprofit that seeks to help scientists improve sustainability in research labs, she soon joined their Ambassador program, which provides free online courses on sustainable science. She and another postdoc went on to found BCH Greenlabs, an initiative to support other research groups at the institution in reducing their carbon footprint and plastic waste. 

The huge environmental impact of laboratory research has led many other institutions to try to make research eco-friendlier, too.

From The Scientist
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