Scientists, here's how to use less plastic | 10/21/2019 | Staff
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The lab is quietly bustling with scientists intent on their work. One gestures to an item on her bench—a yellow container, about the size of a novel. It's almost full to the brim with used plastic pipette tips—the disposable attachments that stop pipettes being cross-contaminated. She stares down at it, despondently. "And this is just from today."

We're at the Francis Crick Institute, a towering biomedical research facility in the heart of London. The scientist in question is Marta Rodriguez Martinez, a Postdoctoral Training Fellow. Every day in her lab, pipette tips, petri dishes, bottles and more are used and discarded. The scale of the waste is immense—research by the University of Exeter estimates that labs worldwide generate 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste each year.

Research - Rodriguez - Martinez - Sustainability - Rep

Alongside her research, Rodriguez Martinez doubles as a sustainability rep, tirelessly working to reduce the plastic waste her lab produces. The Crick's sustainability team consult her about the unique behaviors of scientists. In return, she encourages colleagues to stop using unnecessary plastic and teaches them about sustainable alternatives.

It's a difficult task, but one she feels passionate about. "We have in our heads that plastic is a one-use material, but it is not. Plastic can be autoclaved, it can be washed. Most plastics we use in the lab could be re-used as efficiently as glass."

Crick - Change - Alongside - Rodriguez - Martinez

The Crick is taking behavior change seriously. Alongside reps like Rodriguez Martinez, it offers sustainability workshops and waste training to employees. A pipette-tip audit is underway, which will show which products come with the lowest excess plastic. It's also developing an interactive dashboard for teams to see how their waste compares to other labs."

But behavior change is only the beginning. Rodrigo Ponce-Ortuño oversees the Crick's contract with an ecofriendly waste-management company. He points out that the journey of plastic lab equipment stretches far...
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