More than 20 million boxes of plastic pipette tips are shipped to the greater Boston area each year, and the vast majority are not recycled. GreenLabs Recycling is working to change that.
The Concord, Mass.-based company is focused on diverting lab plastics from landfill, and it recently reached 100,000 pounds of recycled plastic since it began collecting materials in 2019. Most of it comes from pipette tip boxes, which are usually made of PP and are honeycomb boxes that hold the disposable tips that scientists use to transfer liquids.
Company co-founder Brenda Waterman said the team was thrilled to reach 100,000 pounds because “when we first thought of this as graduate students, we never would have imagined that it was possible”.
“We think it’s a great achievement and we’re really looking forward to the future,” she told Plastics Recycling Update.
The idea for GreenLabs Recycling originated when Waterman and her husband, David Waterman, were graduate students at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. They were in the same biology PhD program and worked in the same lab, and Waterman said, “As all good ideas probably do, it emerged over a beer.
The pair were discussing the “crazy amount of plastic we go through every day” in the lab, Waterman said, and realized their lab was a microcosm.
“We are just a small laboratory in this small university. Imagine if you spread that amount of plastic across the entire university, how much plastic are we going to get rid of at that university and then at universities in the greater Boston area? ” she says. “There are some great universities in this field, great research centers with so much biotechnology. It’s just a bit breathtaking.
The realization wasn’t new – Waterman said it was “certainly something known within the scientific community” – but the couple decided to act. “As scientists, we are well aware of the problem, but we also focus on the experiments and just try to do the experiments,” she said.
After she and David Waterman started talking about it, every time she opened a new box of pipettes, it “broke my soul a little.”
A focus on laboratories
Brandeis provides funding and mentorship for lab innovations through its National Science Foundation’s Sprout and Innovation Corps programs, which Waterman approached and proposed the idea for a waste-focused recycling program of laboratory. It was well received, she said, and allowed the original idea to mature into a business.
Through the program, the Watermans met the other co-founders: Gretchen Carey, who had experience in the waste and recycling industries; Matt Young, engineer in the waste industry; and Stephen Armstrong, also an engineer in the waste industry. Waterman said they were also in contact with another Brandeis graduate student, Zach Knecht, who helped support the company. GreenLabs Recycling was founded in 2018.
Today, the company has two full-time employees, five part-time employees and a part-time intern. Serena Monteiro, who is head of operations and one of the full-time employees, said having full-time staff has helped the business move from a collection van to a vehicle. and much larger space. The point-of-use collection service they offer is in high demand, she said, and companies are paying for the services.
“They interact with this plastic every day,” Monteiro said of the local labs. “They realize how much is piling up and they actively want, hope, seek a solution. And here we are.”
The team’s monthly collection of pipette boxes for 2021 exceeded the previous year’s monthly totals for nine of the 12 months, Monteiro said, and she estimates that half of the company’s 100,000 books have been collected. over the past year.
“We are constantly growing,” she said. “Last month, March, was our biggest month, which is a good sign.”
Not only are more companies signing up, but current companies are diverting more of their plastics to GreenLabs Recycling as they get used to the program, Monteiro said.
A small part of the solution
Laboratories are a perfect target as they use large quantities of plastic items, often sterile, but are often misidentified as medical waste and burned or landfilled. Pipette-tip boxes are very rarely contaminated with hazardous chemicals or biologicals and make up about 75% of the total volume of lab plastics, Waterman said.
“We are focusing our efforts on pipette tip boxes, which are one of the main waste streams in a lab, but we are always looking to expand into other materials and collect other materials,” a- she declared.
The company specializes in collecting PET and PP from laboratories, incubators and academic institutions in Beverly, Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Danvers, Medford, Natick, Somerville, Waltham and Watertown.
GreenLabs Recycling offers services between 30 and 40 locations, Monteiro said, with some of them having just one lab and some locations having multiple labs.
“The service can be for a single lab, a small lab generating a few hundred tip boxes per month, and also larger academic institutions that have multiple labs under their umbrella and are generating hundreds of tip boxes per hour. “, she said.
The company offers direct service to facilities, which sets it apart from other lab recycling programs that tend to be mailed out.
Once the GreenLabs Recycling team collects the plastic, they do some processing at their plant, but mostly rely on New England processors to remove the labels, chip, clean the plastic, and mold it into new products, Monteiro said.
Overall, the labs were thrilled to see the service begin, Monteiro said. Waterman said there was strong buy-in and compliance from labs, leading to very low contamination.
“Scientists have been amazing in keeping the waste stream compliant and non-polluting,” Waterman said.
GreenLabs Recycling is looking to grow in several ways, Waterman said. The team wants to divert more lab plastic to the Boston area because they have “tapped very little of the market.”
“We hope to increase the number of clients we can accept,” Waterman said.
But Waterman is also looking to expand beyond labs, and the company recently partnered with MassBrewBros and EcoFriendlyBeer, organizations providing craft brewery news and information, to collect and recycle beer can caps. round plastic.
“Looking even a little further into the future is being able to come full circle and manufacture from the plastic that we collect,” she said. “We would like to do something that [not only] be very useful to the community at large, but also to the scientific community.