Author: Serena Marletta, PhD - Doulix Collection Manager
In the homo digitalis’ era we are currently living in, no distance scares us and we feel more and more connected to each other. Nevertheless, we are still disconnected from Nature. Our planet is offended every day by our short-sighted actions unconcerned about its health. Plastic usage is all-time high in any sector of research and manufacturing regardless of the availability of many valid and greener alternatives. Recyclable materials struggle to make their way into the labs because of the high switching-costs and the “lag phase” in our change of perspective. Hopefully, Greta Thunberg’s generation is acting globally as a driving force to take seriously into account the need for a change “right here, right now”. Many synbio research projects are focusing on exploitation of microorganisms as effective recycling tools. Indeed, they are able both to use plastic waste as a substrate for the synthesis of added-value products and to synthesize biodegradable polymers (1). Just a few days ago, Genomatica has announced the production of the world’s first ton of renewable nylon intermediate by leveraging synthetic biology techniques in partnership with our friends at AciesBio from the TOPCAPI EU consortium.
While science may offer new solutions to the global waste problem, it also heavily rely on non-recyclable materials such as pipette tips and plates. As a scientist, I personally feel troubled by how much litter we can produce every year. More and more organizations and universities are raising awareness of the importance of running a lab in a greener and more sustainable way and provide tips on how to reach this goal by paying attention to our daily routine at the workplace. It is the case of New England Biolabs with its Labconscious open resource for science community as well as of the iGEM competition through its #iGEMGoesGreen initiative.
Reading through the different tips on how to run a greener lab has opened my eyes to all those small actions performed during a typical day in the lab. When consistently applied, those little tips can make a real difference in terms of energy, water, garbage, and chemical reagent savings. To shed light on our lab habits and investigate how green are we at DOULIX, I asked my colleagues in the wet-lab to fill a very simple questionnaire you could find here. I also asked them to provide me a picture of their benches. This little game allowed us to realize what we are doing in our routine. I put myself out there and here you have a pic of my desk (without cleaning it before taking the pic!).
This internal survey shows that most of the teammates take extra care to reduce energy consumption and waste. However, it also shows that we rarely search for alternative products with lower environmental impact. Of course, many decisions for a greener lab and a more sustainable R&D involve the company as a whole. For instance, our purchasing manager at DOULIX, Federica, is always keen to propose greener alternatives for reagents with a high environmental impact. Whenever possible we choose greener lab supplies providing us reusable, recyclable, biodegradable products. For instance, we buy pipette tips from Sarstedt because of their empty tip-boxes policy that helps us reducing both plastic waste and costs. We pay much attention to freezers maintenance (and oh boy, we do have a lot of them!) to reduce unnecessary energy consumption and we chose to switch to a cleaner provider to boost our use of electricity backed by renewable sources including wind, biomass and solar. Last but not least, we enthusiastically joint the H2020 MiAMI project’s policy to leverage videoconference as a mean to minimize flights and reduce R&D meeting CO2 footprint.
As a company, our next goal is to manage instrument and computer decommission. There are many platforms like Rheaply to exchange unused instruments or to donate them and colleagues from DOULIX IT department are exploring new ways to find solutions to the e-waste problem.
Why doing all that?
Well, there are tangible benefits in going green, quoting Labconscious’s Editor Nicole Kelesoglu: i) conserve funding, ii) improve safety and iii) increase productivity.
The other good reason to build a green consciousness in our labs is to encourage individual responsibility. Nowadays, we can’t exempt ourselves from the urgency of recycling. The three R’s motto (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) should become a deontological mantra in every field and discipline. We should keep in mind that the world we are building belongs already to the next generation. And, if we embrace the green revolution, we might end up finding that the grass on the other side of the fence is not greener than ours for a change.