Within the scientific community, many of us are concerned with the environmental impact that our research has. One way to be better stewards of our environment is to find ways to keep outdated or unused equipment out of landfills. If you’ve been in business for a while, you undoubtedly have unused equipment taking up space in your lab or have disposed of unwanted equipment at some point.

“There’s a lot of unused lab equipment in storage or stored in the corners of rooms,” said Robert Boyd, Director of Business Development for BioSurplus. “When it’s time to dispose of this equipment, we can make it easy for you to find “greener” options than a landfill.”

According to the U.S. EPA, only 28% of electronic devices are recycled, the rest of the devices end up in landfills. In California, on average, we produce 200M pounds of electronic waste each year. Nationally, that number reaches 9.4M tons annually. Equipment reuse and recycling can reduce the impact from the waste we now produce.

What’s First?

No matter what you decide to do with your unwanted equipment, the first step is to assess the contaminants that might be present. Then you should follow established protocols for cleaning the equipment and certifying that it is safe to be removed from your lab. It can take weeks to decontaminate equipment to ensure the health and safety of anyone who will come in contact with it and that it’s safe for the environment. This is particularly true in the case of equipment used to store or process biohazardous or radioactive materials.  In some cases, it may be wise not to try to recycle these instruments. In any case, we recommend contacting one of the many professional recyclers to manage this process for you.

Pay particular attention to equipment used to store or process biological material including refrigerators and freezers, incubators, centrifuges, etc. Start by assessing the types of contaminants that may be present, even as residue, as well as the presence of other organisms like mold. If the equipment was a shared resource, be sure to check with all of the individuals who used it and follow established protocols for cleaning and certifying the instrument as safe to handle.

Disposal Options

For equipment still in working order, you have a couple of options. Once the instrument is certified clean and safe, you may be able to repurpose it. Not all equipment can be used in new ways but when this is possible, repurposing can potentially take the place of a new purchase and is environmentally friendly. The second option is to sell the equipment to another lab. This can be done directly or through a used equipment supplier like BioSurplus. Reselling your unwanted equipment generates revenue, which can help in the purchase of new equipment, it keeps equipment out of landfills, and it can be a boon to startups or new initiatives with limited budget. Equipment that no longer functions can also be repaired/refurbished for resale.

“The resale market is critical in supporting those working with limited budgets,” added Boyd. “Making necessary equipment available to new launches or new research initiatives powers industry innovation.”

For equipment that cannot be reused or repaired, recycling is a “greener” option than relegating the equipment to a landfill. Again, we recommend working with a professional recycling company. When an instrument is recycled, some of the working parts can be salvaged and sold before the rest of the materials are recycled. Recycling is often a matter of safety. Those that present a risk of radiation or extreme biohazard may not be likely candidates for recycling. A professional recycler can help guide you to the most environmentally sound option.

You can also choose to donate your unused equipment to schools or community groups that help students learn more about science. This puts equipment in the hands of future scientists and keeps it out of landfills, reducing the impact on the environment.

More resources:

https://www.labmanager.com/business-management/instrument-life-cycle-management-19179

https://www.labmanager.com/business-management/repurposing-lab-equipment-and-supplies-22098

https://www.labmanager.com/business-management/breathing-new-life-into-old-lab-equipment-16283