Waste Minimization

Recycling services provided by Boston University and Boston Medical Center can help ease both the financial and environmental burden associated with waste materials such as paper and commingled containers.  However, in laboratory settings it is the hazardous waste streams generated that pose the greatest risk to personnel and the environment, and require the most financial resources to manage.

With recycling and disposal options limited, efficient management is the key to minimizing the risks and costs associated with hazardous waste.  Every member of the Boston University and Boston Medical Center research community can take steps to minimize the volume of and facilitate the cost-effective disposal of hazardous wastes generated.

Inventory Management

  • Maintain an up-to-date inventory of the chemicals in your laboratory to avoid re-purchasing existing materials and to understand usage patterns. Environmental Health and Safety can provide you detailed information about the wastes that have been collected from your laboratory.
  • Only purchase the amount of chemical you will need in the short term.  Buying in bulk never makes financial sense when the risks of storage and the costs of disposal are considered.
  • Dispose of outdated or unwanted chemicals immediately.  Some materials, such as peroxide-forming chemicals, become more dangerous over time.  It is much safer and much less expensive to get rid of ether that does not have significant peroxide formation.
  • Label all chemical containers, regardless of what’s inside, as unknown chemical wastes are extremely expensive to dispose of.

Scaling and Substitution

  • Consider using micro scale experiments to reduce the volume of chemical wastes generated.
  • Avoid unnecessary dilutions in experimentation which might increase the volume of hazardous waste generated.
  • Substitute less hazardous materials into experiments, for example:
    • Use biodegradable detergents instead of toxic, chromium-based cleaners
    • Select non-mercury preservatives, and choose products such as antibodies which have been manufactured using non-mercury preservatives
    • Use non-halogenated solvents in place of halogenated solvents wherever possible to reduce toxicity and disposal costs
    • Use sodium hypochlorite instead of dichromate
    • Preserve tissues with non-formalin alternatives such as ‘formalternate’ or even ethanol
  • Use scintillation cocktails which are non toluene/xylene based
  • Eliminate metal catalysts whenever practical, even if it means longer experimentation times
  • Purchase chemicals pre-mixed or in the desired concentration to avoid unnecessary experimental steps and un-needed chemical stores

Hazardous Waste Management

  • Flammable liquids are the most cost-effective waste stream to dispose of.  Avoid mixing halogenated solvents, metals or other hazardous materials with flammable liquid wastes.
  • Wastes containing heavy metals should not be combined with any other waste streams.
  • Mercury wastes should be kept separate from all other waste streams.
  • Wherever possible, avoid disposing of half-full containers of hazardous waste.