Lab waste burning

Why is Burning Plastic Lab Waste Harmful? And What Can Labs Do About It?

Labs around the world are now aware that lab waste represents a growing problem throughout the life sciences industry. In fact, plastic represents 36% of the waste generated in a clinical setting. And of that waste, 27% of is considered to be infectious, toxic, or radioactive. Once disposed of, 43% of hazardous waste in the U.S. is treated with some form of burning, including incineration, fuel blending, and energy recovery (11%,11% and 20% respectively). 


While the production of laboratory plastics is an ecologically harmful process, emitting 1.58 grams of CO2 per gram of polypropylene pipette tips, so is its destruction. The carbon emissions of incinerators are at comparable amounts to that of coal mines, and account for 2% of Europe’s total CO2 emissions. In addition, mixed waste incineration emits mass amounts of chemicals (referenced as dioxins) into the atmosphere including metals (mercury, lead, and cadmium), organics, acid gases (sulfur dioxide and hydrogen chloride), particulates (dust and grit), nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. 


When inhaled or ingested, the impact of burning plastic waste includes cancers, neurological damages, and damage to the immune, reproductive, and endocrine systems. Because of the hazards of this practice, incinerators are generally located in low-income communities, disproportionally introducing these byproducts to marginalized populations. Edmondson, one of the lowest income areas in the UK, just north of London, houses an aging incinerator. This incinerator is 1 of the 42 incinerators in the UK that altogether emitted almost 11 million tons of CO2 in 2017, along with many other carcinogens. The incinerator’s emissions are correlated with a reduction in life expectancy (8.8 years for men, 5.7 years for women) in neighborhoods directly adjacent the incinerator compared to just outside this area.

In response, many labs are seeking ways to wash and reuse their plastic consumables by partnering with Grenova, an award-winning sustainability company that provides the life sciences industry with the only patented and scientifically proven green technology capable of washing and reusing plastic consumables like pipette tips and microwell plates. Over one billion plastic pipette tips have been washed and reused by Grenova’s automated, high-throughput product line—the only reuse technology available today. For more information about making your lab sustainable, visit

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