Being environmentally friendly in the lab
Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the chemical industry’s impact on the environment. I guess as individuals we can all start by being more considerate about our own impact therefore this year in labs I have been thinking about how I can do things better so my personal impact is as little as possible.
The first and the simplest thing is to lower the fume cupboard sash when you don’t need it raised. It should be lowered anyway and it’s safer for you if you have it lowered rather than open horizontally and this helps with energy-saving.
Dispose of chemicals in the right bins. You get flammable, inorganic, organic, halogenated, waste solid, glass, sharps and general waste bins in the lab. Do your homework and know what goes where! When unsure, ask the demonstrators. Even if you feel embarrassed asking whether something is flammable (like me today) thinking you should know, just ask anyway because better be embarrassed than to get it wrong (and I did!).
You really don’t need that much acetone to wash up. Look, I have some deep connections with acetone but try to be more considerate about its use. When trying to dry RBFs, conical flasks or measuring cylinders, it’s understandable. With beakers, Buchner funnels and more open containers, you can just rinse with deionised water and dry with a tissue. You save so much! Also, emphasis on drying. Acetone is not really for cleaning but helps to dry the equipment. Use the fairy liquid provided at the sinks and the brushes to really clean all the material off and once you’ve cleaned it all, give it a rinse with deionised water or acetone or acid as required.
Pour however much you need in your conical flasks/ beakers. Pipetting straight from the chemicals bottle isn’t the best idea although I do it but I keep a separate pipette only for the one bottle otherwise you contaminate the solutions and then reactions don’t work. When pouring into beakers/ conical flasks, think about how much you’d need so you throw away as little of the chemicals as possible.
Rather than washing all your RBFs and conical flasks at the sink, perhaps give them a rinse with water into one of the appropriate waste bins so you remove as much of the chemical as you can before you wash the equipment as you probably don’t want your chemicals running down the sink.
I hope this helps anyone who may be interested in learning more about how we can do better in labs. I have to say I have my moments when I’m just tired or in a rush and carelessly rinse everything with acetone or it feels like I need lots of solvent just so I don’t have to later go around hunting for the bottle in the lab but I swear I’m working on this. Hopefully I’ll get better at it and if you’re thinking of giving these simple practices a go, I wish you all the best!