Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence


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While assessing laboratory management practices throughout the University of Vermont campus, via routine inspections and waste disposal procedures, it has become increasingly obvious that laboratories are depending on glassware materials in large quantities. Numerous amounts of beakers, flasks, pipets, etc.... are used for various experimental analyses, tests, and procedures as needed for the research that is being done. The variability of the latter causes a wide spectrum of usage. That is to say all of the different departments and labs on campus are using glassware for different purposes. Thus, a wide range of waste must be cleansed from the glassware before reuse. What the Environmental Safety Facility is looking to do is assess any possibilities of waste source reduction revolving around glassware washing techinques. More specifically, reducing waste sources arising from the chemicals and processes being used to clean the glassware. Source reduction being any practice that reduces the amount of contaminant entering a wastestream or the environment prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal, while reducing public health and environmental hazards.

If current glassware washing methods produce some hazardous wastes, perhaps a more environmentally sound method of cleansing glassware could be found. If a new method proved to be more economically feasible and environmentally friendly, maybe an exchange of some sort could be worked out. Thus reducing or eliminating current methods that utilize or produce hazardous chemicals (e.g acid washes, benzene, residue by-products, etc).

Where do we start?

In order to know how we are going to approach reducing source contamination, it is imperative to find out what is presently being done in campus laboratories. Issues that must be dealt with include:

  • Where is glassware being cleaned?

    What labs use and clean their glassware?
    Are students in laboratory classes responsible for cleaning their own glassware?
    Are there specific facilities dedicated to glass cleaning?

  • How much glassware is being used?

    What type of glassware is being cleaned?
    How many pieces of glassware are used daily?
    Does the amount of glassware being used vary during the year?

  • What are the cleaning methods?

    When is the glassware cleaned? daily/weekly?
    What contamination is being cleaned?
    Do the labs use detergent, dishwashers, chemicals, water, etc?
    Is glassware pre-rinsed before it is put in the dishwasher?
    Are chemical waste by products neutralized?
    How much detergent or chemical is used?
    Why are the processes of cleaning being used?
    Are the methods of cleaning research specific?

  • What are the alternatives?

    Are there any alternatives?
    Are the alternatives feasible (economically and experimentally)?
    Are the alternatives environmentally friendly?
    How can we implement the alternatives?

    These issues are concerned with the most basic elements of what we are trying to find out involving laboratory management. The next logical step would then be to gain a preliminary idea of whats going on around campus before we dive into an in depth study. This can be accomplished by speaking with preliminary contacts such as laboratory technicians around campus and waste management officials. This should provide us with a general stepping stone before designing and implementing an actual waste minimization plan.


    Speaking with a number of laboratory technicians (as listed in the preliminary contacts page) it seems that the methodology of glassware management practices is generally research specific. The cleansing processes are designed to guard against any contamination from outside sources that will affect experimental results. Soil testing labs, which use only tap and distilled water, cannot use detergents and chemicals to clean their glassware because any trace elements left behind will contaminate the soil sample and yield imprecise results. Phosphorous, a prevalent ingredient in soaps and detergents, is a variable that is measured in certain forestry experiments. Therefore, acid washes are used to eat away all traces of phosphorous and other contaminants. A general constant among all laboratories is the disposal of biohazardous material via autoclaving.
    Laboratories also utilize manufactured laboratory glassware washers. These machines are synonymous with dishwashers except that they are designed for the specific needs of scientific laboratories. Some laboratories pre-wash their glassware before they put them in the dishwasher. They run using detergent that is usually purchased from the same company that manufactures the glassware washing machine and are piped into the regular water plumbing systems. Some companies that manufacture these washers are LABCONCO and AMSCO.
    Many of the laboratory glassware management practices revolve around what has been done in the past. If a certain practice is established, is cheap, and it works to the advantage of the experiment, then it will probably be utilized until a new experiment calls for a different process or a better method is introduced. These established methods may create significant amounts of waste by-products that slip by the laboratory technician. Historically, reducing sources of waste from laboratory practices has been a significant issue among waste management officials. Therefore, their must be communication between the lab technicians and the waste management officials to produce a synergistic effort reducing wastestreams while satisfying experimental requisites, in this case, concerning cleaning glassware.

    Informational Survey

    From the general information gathered through these preliminary contacts, a survey was designed to assess on-campus laboratories and their glassware washing methods in a more definitive matter. This survey includes a number of the questions from above as well as other areas of concern. Surveys will be sent by mail to lab technicians around campus as well as taken by personal interview. By personally surveying a number of varying laboratories in each scientific building around UVM and expecting a significant return from mail-out surveys, a more accurate report may be made in the near future.

    Survey Responses 155 surveys were distributed to lab technicians around UVM campus toward the end of March. Surveys included a flexible April 16 deadline. By April 30, sixty-five surveys were returned representing a 42% return. Personal interviews have yet to be conducted due to certain restraints. The next step is to analyze these returns for any anomalies or recurring patterns that will give us relevant information to report concerning glassware washing practices around campus.

    All returned surveys were collected and answers to all fields in were entered into a simple database. Using the database, it was possible to analyze and group the various responses for each field. The answers to survey questions are comprised of "Yes/No", multiple choice and short answer replies. A document was then created to display the responses for each question.

    Out of the 65 returns, 32 were from Given medical building. This represents a significant return from one source as it comprises a major portion of the sample. Other scientific buildings that are known to have numerous amounts of laboratories are misrepresented by the survey results. For example Cook, Marsh, Aiken, Terrill, and Rowell are represented by only one response each. Perhaps later in the summer it will be possible to conduct personal interviews with laboratory technicians in these buildings to achieve a more accurate sample.

    58 of the 65 returns exclaimed that there labs were used for research purposes. A significant amount of laboratories also exclaimed that they use and reuse glassware (63) and are responsible for cleaning it themselves (53). The sample shows that most laboratories only use about 25 or less pieces of glassware daily. Glassware is washed daily or as needed and is mostly washed by hand. When asked if glassware management practices were specifically designed for research being done, 44/65 said "No". And when asked if the laboratory would be willing to change to a environmentally friendly economically feasible alternative, 46/65 said "Yes".

    In an attempt to discover sources of waste from laboratory by-products, a number of questions were designed. When asked, "What is/are the most prevalent waste, residue, contaminant, or other experimental by-product generated by your laboratory that is being cleaned from glassware?" an array of responses followed. Answers ranged from general experimental materials such as buffers, media, and other lab chemicals to other research specific items such as diluted animal blood, fly food, oxidized zinc, etc. When asked, "Are any of these residues or by-products rinsed away into the sink, what are they?" similair responses were given. A follow up question, "What other materials produced by your laboratory are routinely poured down the sink? was also asked. The responses to these questions were significantly numerous and variable as well. This leads me to the conclusion that it may be quite cumbersome to attempt a waste reduction project encompassing all UVM laboratories concerning glassware washing by-products and residues. It would be advantageous to find a more tangible aspect of glassware washing that may also be potentially hazardous to the environment and the laboratory worker and reduce it.

    Document Information: Version .07 by Nicholas Shih, Last Update: April 30, 1999