Being sustainable in biomedical research

Updated: Nov 21


As debate about climate change and sustainability concludes at COP27, what can the biomedical community do to address these concerns?


#LabWasteDay held each September, raises awareness about the amounts of packaging and plastic waste generated by facilities and asks researchers to join the conversation and post a picture on social media of a single day’s waste (below).


While My Green Lab, run 'for scientists by scientists,' holds an annual The Freezer Challenge to encourage a competitive way to improve energy efficiency in the lab.


There are several websites dedicated to reducing lab waste and reducing energy and water use. Lab Conscious include a guide to green laboratory supplies and lab equipment.


The Sustainable European Laboratories Network (SELs) launched this year, is a network of local sustainability teams and ‘green labs’ advocating sustainable research practices in Europe.


SELs includes the LEAN initiative which is a network of individuals who share best practice through an online forum and resources page.


In addition, the LEAF initiative run by University College London staff provides guidance for improving sustainability, including an online calculator to enable laboratory users to estimate the current sustainability performance.


Also in the UK, the Francis Crick Institute, in London, has a scientific repair department and reports servicing and recalibrating 6,000 pipettes each year.


Elsewhere in Europe, Green Labs Austria shares good practice on sustainability, while in Spain EARA member IDIBAPS, Barcelona, has instituted its own sustainability committee to look at the issue.


Meanwhile a sustainability group has been established at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), by researchers concerned about the impact of their work. PRBB modified the building’s cold circuit, which has meant a saving of 170,000 K watts, or 10% of the energy consumed in refrigeration.


The Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) has also produced a report with tips about reducing waste and making savings on energy and water.


Here are some simple tips for labs to follow and there is a good article by the Royal Society of Biology:

  • If possible, avoid using disposable items. Whenever possible, use reusable glass or plastic utensils.

  • Recycle everything you can. Not everything in the laboratory is biohazardous.

  • Whenever you can, and if needed, buy large packages. This way you can optimize the packaging. If you buy little, get together with other laboratories that buy the same product.

  • Ask your suppliers for more sustainable options: other materials, package collection or smaller packages.

  • Consider if you can raise the temperature of the freezers a little.

  • If you see ice on a freezer door, wipe it off! Regular cleaning of the freezer helps the machine cool down better and avoids extraordinary energy expenditure.

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