Update on the Waste Awareness Campaign

By Karl Demmans, Seminar Series Coordinator for the GCI

Today I’m very excited to update everyone on the latest results of the Waste Awareness Campaign. We’ve been recording the types and quantities of waste accumulated in Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories since January 1st, 2014.

Posters displaying the data collected in the first 8 months were posted throughout the department, with the intention of drawing researchers’ attention to their waste habits and shedding light on alternate green methods to help reduce waste generated in our department. You may have seen this previous data set, which we published in a blog post here.

Now, almost two years later, we have gathered enough data to look at the changes in waste production from 2014 to 2015, during the period of January to August for each year. Take a look at the poster below for a summary of what we found.

GCI Waste Awareness Poster 2015

The table shows the percent contribution by discipline to each waste category, while the bar graph displays the distribution of waste within each discipline.

Beginning with the table at the top, the rows display each discipline’s percent contribution to each respective waste category, while the last column shows the contribution to total waste in 2015. The value in brackets denotes the change from the same period in 2014. Understandably and not surprisingly, the most waste is produced by organic chemistry labs, accounting for 81% of flammable waste, and 58% of the total waste in our department. This is then followed by the polymers & materials, inorganic, and biological disciplines, fairly evenly contributing 10-15% each to the total waste volume.

Subsequently, the row entitled “Percent of Total 2015” breaks down the contribution by each type of waste compared to the total waste accumulated. From this, we can see that the flammable waste was our department’s largest source of waste this year, followed by green pails for solid waste at 40%. The last row indicates the percent increase for each waste category in comparison to the same period of 2014.

Surprisingly, we observed a fairly dramatic increase in waste this year. It is important to note that the data has already been corrected for the number of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows working in the labs, since this number fluctuates constantly. However, we do not have the number of undergraduate students who work or volunteer in each lab, which could adjust the data comparisons. Nonetheless, the increase in waste production surprised us, and we will continue to compare trends as we collect more data over time.

The bar graph “Waste Distribution by Discipline” at the bottom of the poster displays a further breakdown of the types and quantities of waste produced in each discipline of chemistry. For example, in Environmental Chemistry, 51% of the total waste was green pails while only 25% of waste was flammable solvent. This graph allows each lab to identify their largest type of waste production and strategically target reduction. In general, the vast majority of the Chemistry Department’s waste was flammable and solid material. In fact, we are only producing minimal halogenated and acidic waste, which is a noteworthy accomplishment as these types of waste are more harmful to the environment and costly to neutralize.

While we have seen a percentage shift in the use of chlorinated and acidic to flammable solvents, we have still noted increases across the board in each waste category. As a research facility, we generally produce a very small fraction of the global chemical waste in comparison to industrial processes. Nonetheless, we take our waste production very seriously and are always brainstorming ways to encourage less production of chemical waste in order to reduce our footprint. Do you have any stories of how your institutions have encouraged waste reduction? Share with us in the comments!

For more information on the categories of waste and proper waste disposal please refer to our posts Proper Chemical Waste Disposal: Posters & Memes and Chemical Waste FAQs.