Scientist to Scientist: Sustainability in Lab Plastics

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Emelia DeForce, PhD has a degree in Molecular Microbiology from University of Massachusetts Boston. She has been working at Thermo as a Senior Applications Scientist in the laboratory plastics business.  Emelia has worked for over 10 years to better understand plastic pollution in the marine environment. She has been implementing and expanding programs within the lab plastics consumables business in order to mitigate issues surrounding the global plastics crisis.

What strategies or “sustainability wins” are you implementing to make consumable products more green or sustainable?

We were the first to ACT label consumables. The ACT label is a virtual label that helps consumers make smart and sustainable product choices by providing an environmental impact score for each product that is labeled. The score, created by the non-profit, My Green Lab, is based on the product’s environmental impact with regard to manufacturing practices, energy and water use, and end-of-life disposal. We recognize that lab consumables are often single-use and have a bad reputation when it comes to sustainability, but we want to ensure that the quality of our products remains the same so the need to implement sustainability surrounding the manufacturing of the product is crucial.  The ACT label helps address this issue by incentivizing changes surrounding manufacturing and end-of-life for a single use consumable.

Have you seen a high demand for green products amongst researchers?

Yes, in a recent survey we conducted on the ACT label, over 70% of respondents indicated that they’d like to go greener in the lab.  It’s overwhelming how much the benchtop scientists are begging for more green, sustainable products. It’s frustrating for scientists because they’re educated people who understand global climate change and know that the inherent wastefulness in scientific research is part of the problem that is negatively impacting the environment. It’s as if they feel their hands are tied behind their backs because the industry, as a whole, has not properly addressed this issue yet.

What systematic progress stands out to you, if any?

Regulatory measures are ramping up to address the issue of plastic waste.  For example, in 2022, the UK will implement a tax on packaging that does not contain 30% or more recycled contents.  The US is following suit with the Break Free From Plastic pollution Act of 2020.  If passed, it will address a variety of different plastic practices including waste, recycling, manufacturing, and export of plastic waste.  Addressing this issue from a regulatory standpoint is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

How do you think our mindset needs to change to implement sustainability?

We’re going to have to change our culture as a society and more specifically as manufacturers in order to implement change. For example, there needs to be a demand for better municipal recycling (or rather, sorting) and composting practices.  Companies need to adopt design for re-use strategies and more transparency into the manufacturing process of products.  Probably, the most influential is that consumers need to make purchasing decisions based on best practices so that all of the above mentioned are addressed.

Interested in learning more? Check out Life in the Lab’s “The Green Issue” to learn about green lab solutions and how we’re partnering with both customers and industry partners on the journey towards sustainable science.

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