To begin with it is clarified that a green lab does not mean that everything in the lab is painted green which includes walls, work benches, reagent bottles, instruments, lab coats, etc. On the other hand a green lab implies a laboratory which follows norms that are environment friendly and there is concern for conservation of available resources.
A laboratory cannot be made green in one stroke by the efforts and directives of the senior management alone. It is a joint responsibility of each and every individual working in the laboratory. Now the question arises how as an individual you can make your contribution. Let us examine the different areas where you as a responsible analytical scientist can make your contributions to help make your lab green.
Gain a Sound Understanding of Analysis
It is essential to have a complete knowledge of analysis and techniques that you employ for analysis or research work. You should be aware of toxicity of reagents and chemicals and refer to respective material safety data sheets before starting your work. It means that you should spend time to assess the chemicals and their toxicities and select the ones that pose lowest hazards or toxicities.
Conserve Use of Chemicals and Reagents
During method development stage conduct studies on small scale so that use of precious reagents, solvents, buffers can be minimized. For the purpose you may consider micro- analytical techniques. Flow injection analysis which provide reliable results using μl or sub-ml volumes of reagents.
A laboratory has the potential to generate large amounts of daily waste which can cause damage to the immediate environment. First of all the waste can be reduced by adopting micro analysis techniques, segregation of wastes by category before disposal and a procedure to hand over the waste to specialized collection agencies for the disposal instead of dumping it outside the labs. Use water recirculation after treatment and do not empty out reaction mixtures in wash basins. Similarly make use of solvent recyclers to help save solvents for reuse and also save on operational costs.
Adopt methods that permit studies at room temperature rather than those requiring high temperatures or pressures. Similarly adopt rapid sample digestion techniques such as microwave digestion instead of open digestions. The digestions get completed in minutes instead of hours thereby saving on time and in the electrical energy consumption. Make use of catalysts or enzymes to speed up reactions and help save both time and energy resources.
It is also desirable to switch off laboratory instruments or appliances when not in use and equally important to switch off all instruments, lights, air conditioning, etc when leaving the laboratory for the day. At time of purchase prioritize on energy Star certified laboratory appliances.
Storage of Hazardous Materials
Excessive quantities of hazardous, toxic or corrosive chemicals should be stored in separate rooms outside the laboratory. Only required quantities should be stored on laboratory work benches.
Maintenance and upkeep of a green laboratory is an ongoing activity and it is not a one-time effort. Above all it is important to show concern for conservation of our natural environment and resources as these are limited and are not going to last forever.