Creating sustainable clinical laboratories of the future

It might be difficult to believe that clinical labs can achieve sustainable operations, given their high throughput and need for sterility. But in fact, much can be done to limit labs’ environmental impact Clinical laboratories use 10 times more energy than offices, more than four times more water, and generate billions of pounds of waste every year, nearly all of it considered hazardous. Clinical labs have to improvise in order to adapt to the sustainable model. However, with laboratories being a higher throughout  area, the task seems difficult. Through simple changes, lab staff can make reductions in each of these four key areas—energy, water, waste, and hazardous chemicals—that will result in a safe, more sustainable lab also referred  as “green-labs”. To achieve this, laboratory staff have to become mindful of the environment. Through implementation of some basic steps, laboratory personnel can minimize energy and water consumption, as well as reduce the waste generation in the clinical lab.

Measures to reduce energy and water consumption

 Solar power, sustainable bio-fuel, combined heat and power systems can be used to supplement the electricity and heat requirements . Turning off equipment when it is not in use is one of the easiest and most obvious ways to save energy. Auto switching off of lights can also be programmed.Labs should consider purchasing energy efficient refrigerators and freezers. The amount of water used by laboratories is quite a lot. Installation of faucets with low-flow aerators can reduce water consumption by half. Autoclaves and dishwashers should be used to full capacity to ensure better efficiency.

Steps to reduce laboratory waste generation

Reducing the amount of waste coming into a lab by consolidating purchases and choosing products with reduced packaging is a great place to start. Labs should reuse as many items as possible, using glassware instead of disposable plastic ware whenever feasible. Recycling nonhazardous waste is also becoming an option for labs. Many waste haulers are starting to accept non-hazardous plastic waste from labs, including pipette tip boxes, and several vendors offer recycling programs for their products. Hazardous waste may be recycled in some states as well.

Reducing plastic and hazardous chemical use

Clinical labs should switch to safer and green alternatives instead of hazardous chemicals. Safety guidelines should be in practice to handle radioactive material. Labs should also work towards eliminating the use of mercury in thermometers. Disposable plastic-ware should be replaced with glassware or metal whenever feasible.

The impact of everyday actions on and off the bench in a lab by the staff can aid in changing clinical labs into a sustainable space. Laboratory leadership should encourage sustainable practices and such initiatives ought to be rewarded. Sustainable laboratory practices need to imbibed by one and all, for successful implementation.