Science and (Environmental) Sustainability

Recently I’ve been thinking about environmental sustainability in Science. There has been a big push at Public U. to be environmentally friendly. All new buildings on campus are LEED certified and there are new recycling bins on each floor. Also, a few months ago there was a big “Environmental Sustainability Fair” on the main campus. At this fair there was a big emphasis on things you can do on campus to Save Our PlanetTM. However, Science is not always about conservation.

In most facets of my life I strive to for environmental sustainability. I’m not always the best at that, but it’s something that I work on. I bring my own bags to the grocery store, recycle everything that I can, compost (this is much easier with a house and a yard), and turn off the water when I’m brushing my teeth. All those little things that I try to do to minimize my own impact on the Earth.

However, not all my Scientific Practices are that environmentally friendly. Take tissue culture, most of the things that one uses is disposable. It’s that way because everything has to be sterile and it’s more efficient to use disposable items. But it’s not just tissue culture. There are many things in the lab designed to be one-time use -- conical tubes, microcentrifuge tubes, the (infamous) blue Qiagen kits, etc. That’s not to mention the toxic chemicals I use on a daily basis (phenol anyone?). On top of all that, my Advisor recently decided to let our dishwasher (person, not machine) go. So, now I’m doing my own dishes (cue the world’s smallest violin) and, consequently, using more disposable items.

Reconciling my desire for environmental sustainability and common practices in Science is difficult for me. There are some things that I do to make Science less environmentally harmful. Our pipet tip refills have less waste and are recyclable. The serological pipets are glass and we have a washer for them (as a side note: I like those better than the plastic ones and they’re easy to clean and sterilize). In general, I try to minimize the amount of plastic waste that I generate.

Still, I’m not going to stop using all the plasticware in our lab. I’m still going to use harmful chemicals. And I’m still going to generate biological waste.