How Labs Can Protect the Environment and the Supply Chain

From screening newborns for adverse genetic conditions to researching treatments for possible pandemics, scientific labs are responsible for some of the most important work for the wellbeing of the world. As it’s currently done, that work comes at a cost of environmental sustainability and with critical supply chain instability. But Grenova has stepped up with a solution to safely and efficiently reuse key diagnostic components that are at the heart of the lab industry’s environmental and supply chain weaknesses.

5.5 Million Metric Tons of Plastic

That is the average plastic waste that scientific labs generate each year. To put it in perspective, that’s about 220 times the weight of the Statue of Liberty. One of the principal sources of that plastic waste is the pipette tip.

These tiny, sterile, unremarkable pieces of plastic are used for dispensing precise amounts of liquid in diagnostic tests. Even routine tests require multiple pipette tips. A COVID-19 test can use up to six tips. A single newborn screening requires up to 40. Pipette tips are made of polypropylene, a plastic that takes up to 30 years to decompose naturally. In addition to the obvious plastic pollution, many of the pipette tips sitting in landfills have contacted hazardous, potentially infectious fluids, presenting a global biohazard that’s growing every day.      

Untold Tons of Carbon

A rack of 96 pipette tips—a mere 16 COVID-19 RNA tests—results in four pounds of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. If a lab ran 500 of these tests per day, that would be about 875 pounds of carbon dioxide per week, or 45,500 pounds per year.

A Global Pipette Tip Shortage

It may seem hard to believe that a simple product used so extensively could be in such short supply. But the global supply chain of pipette tips has become so strained that “it is threatening every corner of the scientific world.”Most concerning, there is no sign of the supply chain returning to normal in the near future, and scientists are concerned that research and projects may have to be suspended. 

The global supply chain of pipette tips has become so strained that “it is threatening every corner of the scientific world.”1

Kate Sheridan, STAT journalist

At present, professionals are taking measures to conserve their highly limited and price-inflated supply of pipette tips. Some are cleaning and reusing their pipette tips outside of approved methods,2 which could pose a risk of cross contamination in addition to taking exorbitant amounts of time. 

The Current Shortage Shows Systemic Vulnerabilities

While the pandemic did play a part in the global pipette tip shortage, scientific labs cannot consider this a once-in-a-generation aberration to wait out. COVID-19 did create a high pipette tip demand due to related tests and studies. But events unrelated to the pandemic—including a manufacturing plant fire and regulatory crackdowns—have combined to create the current situation. Most notably, the February 2021 Texas power outage forced major plants that produce polypropylene resin to close, affecting 85% of polypropylene manufacturing in the country.3,4

Addressing Both the Environmental and Supply Chain Problems

There is a common thread between the environmental impact and supply chain vulnerabilities of pipette tips—they are seen as single use, disposable products. Labs that are washing and reusing them out of desperation are not able to do so safely or efficiently. But there is new technology that cleans and sanitizes racks of pipette tips in as little as 10-minutes.

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Grenova is the only producer of automated technology for washing, sterilizing, and reusing pipette tips in large quantities. In terms of safety, their tip washers were developed and have been tested in CLIA- and CAP-approved labs on multiple assays without carryover.

Operating since 2014, Grenova’s partner labs report a 90% reduction of plastic pipette tip consumption and a 93-95% carbon footprint reduction. Internal studies have shown that choosing reuse over disposal is a clear way to reduce the environmental impact of diagnostic testing. It also offers labs independence from a supply chain that is far more vulnerable than anyone realized.

Grenova’s partner labs report a 90% reduction of plastic pipette tip consumption and a 93-95% carbon footprint reduction."

Kate Sheridan, STAT journalist

“Not only is the healthcare community experiencing a shortage of plastic pipette tips, but the current rate of usage has also resulted in an increase in biohazard waste due to the spike in plastic consumables in healthcare and other industries that dispose of tips into biohazard bins and ultimately into landfills,” explains Ali Safavi, founder and CEO of Grenova. “Today there is a better option–everyone in the healthcare and life sciences community can now practice smart inventory control and protect the environment by washing and reusing plastic consumables.”