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Can scientists at UIC improve recycling habits?

October 24, 2011

My Life as a Science Promoter on October 20, 2011

Today, the world population is 6,970,313,475

science recycling chicagoOn Thursday October 20, I volunteered with the UIC Office of Sustainability (OS) as they performed a ‘waste audit.’ In collaboration with other organizations around the country, this effort is part of a RePaper Challenge whose goal is to encourage stronger paper recycling rates. Paper is still the number one component in municipal landfills when it should be going back into recycled paper manufacturing. The goal is to be recycling 75% of paper by 2015. As UIC prepares to achieve this goal, they must first identify their current recycling rate by sorting through bags of waste from around campus.

RePaper Project Chicago

5 garbage bags randomly selected from 5 buildings were collected, opened, and analyzed. I arrived just in time to examine the waste coming out of the College of Medicine building where scientists are working to solve our world’s problems. The OS is focused on paper, but my interests lie in the plastics scientists use as they investigate cancer, arthritis, & Crohn’s disease, among many other ailments.

Recycling science Wearing a bright yellow biohazard suit and sky blue nitrile gloves, my olfactory receptors were saturated with the smell of day-old garbage. As we were elbow deep in banana peels & medical supply waste, Maja (another volunteer), said “[the College of Medicine] garbage is the most interesting.” I agree. Some of the oddities we found included fur from a shaved animal, dozens of western blot films, remnants of a birthday cake, Q-tips soaked in blood, and plenty of cell culture flasks used to grow human & animal cells. But we also came across pipet tip boxes, and conical and microcentrifuge (“eppy”) tubes–all recyclable materials.

science recycling chicago

The Department of Environmental Health & Safety Office and I will be working together to develop a system to increase plastic recycling in scientific research labs at UIC, and eventually beyond. If you work in a lab, or have walked through one, you’re aware of the various shapes and uses of plastics–tubes, pipet tips, petri dishes, T75 flasks, pipet tip boxes, and much more. Is it possible to minimize plastic waste in scientific research labs? We are investigating this matter, but if you have any ideas that will improve recycling habits in scientific research labs, please comment below or contact me, letubeu@gmail.com.

Thank you to the Office of Sustainability. Based on the first round of data gathering, UIC is closer to the 75% goal than anticipated. They will post further results in the near future. Below is a picture of the OS team and some of the volunteers. Maja (far right), wins the prize for MVV (Most Valuable Volunteer) since she was helping from beginning to end, and recognition for Best Shoes (see below). Thanks for reading, letUbeU!

Science recycling Chicago

science recycling chicagoScience Promoter Tom

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