IUPUI Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) routinely receives inquiries regarding recycling opportunities for campus laboratories – especially the recycling of plastic, glass or metal chemical containers. EHS has evaluated the potential to recycle these items over the years and recently took a fresh look at the issue.
At this time, EHS does not endorse the recycling of most waste stock chemical containers due to the potential safety concern presented to campus personnel involved in handling these materials.
Campus labs purchase literally thousands of different chemicals and chemical products over the course of a year. Included are strong corrosives, a myriad of solvents, reactive compounds and toxic materials ranging from being mildly to highly toxic in nature. In addition to the inherent hazards presented by these various chemicals, the results of mixing incompatible chemical residues found in the containers – as can occur should containers break open during handling– could potentially be deadly.
Recycling vendors most typically require that waste chemical containers be triple rinsed before being recycled. Triple rinsing has been found to lead to significant yet preventable chemical exposures when vapors are displaced from the container as it is being filled with water. In addition, EHS has significant reservations about flushing residual amounts solvents (including chlorinated solvents), concentrated acid and bases and other toxics down the drain and the potential impact these materials may have on the water resources in the community.
What should you do with your waste chemical reagent containers? Containers which previously held a select list of compounds should be referred to EHS for controlled disposal (see “How to Dispose of Empty Chemical Containers” in the Fall 2011 edition of Lab Notes
For all other containers, EHS requests that lab staff ensure that any remaining product has been poured from the container and used as intended. Once the container is empty (aside from the small amount of residue clinging to the interior) replace the cap and place the container in the appropriate waste receptacle in the lab. (Plastic and metal containers can go in any waste receptacle in the lab and glass containers are to be placed in the lab’s glass waste box).
EHS certainly encourages campus laboratories to take advantage of all other recycling opportunities on campus including:
• EHS collects all batteries with the exception of standard, household alkaline batteries.
• Surplus property will take any electronic device for recycling as well as glassware and other functional lab equipment.
• Paper, paperboard and cardboard can readily be recycled in campus recycling receptacles.
EHS supports the recycling of outer shipping packaging that has not been in direct contact with a chemical reagent or biohazardous material and the recycling of outer shipping packaging that has not been in direct contact with a chemical reagent or biohazardous material.
Recently, some campus laboratories were approached about establishing a used nitrile glove recycling program without first consulting with EHS. Please be aware that we request that anyone wishing to begin a recycling program in the laboratory involving laboratory equipment or supplies consult with EHS prior to starting a recycling program on campus so that the overall safety can be assessed prior to implementation. At this time, EHS is unable to endorse the nitrile glove recycling program as presented because of several unanswered concerns as to the overall safety and effectiveness of the program, however we continue to research the proposal.
EHS fully recognizes that the current philosophy does eliminate a significant potential source of recyclable materials. The approach however has proven over the past 20 years to be highly effective at preventing chemical exposures for the Building Services staff responsible for handling the tons of trash generated on campus every week – which is the highest priority of our office.
EHS will continue to explore recycling opportunities for laboratories and certainly welcomes recycling suggestions.
Kevin Mouser has a Bachelor's degree in Biology from the University of Indianapolis and is a certified Hazardous Materials Manager.
Kevin has served as the Environmental Manager for IUPUI Environmental Health and Safety since 1990.