Reducing single-use plastic waste in science

Can we reduce single-use plastic in science? Living according to zero waste is often out of our hands when we talk in a professional level, especially those who work in science.

If you are also a researcher and leading a personal life reducing as much as possible trash production, you may feel like if you were “living a lie”. We leave home, arrive at work and we use a lot of plastic. Then, when we go to buying in bulk we ask ourselves: Does it compensate at all? Is this doing any good to the planet? The answer, obviously, is yes, yes it counts. For many reasons, but especially because we are being aware of it.

Are we gonna ban plastic use for medical research? or global warming research? No, sometimes plastic is useful, and we should be thankful for its help in science. 

Research and investigation are the future, mostly of them to treat diseases (such as cancer) or to fight against global warming, and even if it is basic science, to enhance humanity knowledge, science is one big pilars of humanity. And we have to admit that plastic has made researching much more easier and accesible, there are endless single-use plastic items that we almost can not avoid in the lab: eppis, pipettes, gloves, cell culture bottles …

The Rs

Let’s be honest, in science, as in many fields, plastic is a success and has come to stay. It’s easy, it’s sterile, it allows high replication of studies and much more. But we can reduce it a lot. How? I will follow the three Rs’ principle used for reducing animal model for research:

  1. Replacement for those materials that are made of  glass and autoclavable.
    • For example, whenever I can I use glass petri dishes, culture flasks or pipettes. Then, I clean and sterilize them.
  2. Reduction, thanks to the development and application of statistical studies, now you can easier prepare everything you need to obtain a representative results.
    • It means, planning the experiment well, trying to work well, without contamination, in the right environment and with the material strictly necessary to avoid having to repeat it.
  3. Refinement, as before, choose well what we need, reading studies and trying that what we use is really what is necessary for our experiment.

What we do

Additionally to this 3 statements, there are a few things that we can do:

  1. I reuse my gloves as long as I do not risk my experiments or my health
  2. When pipetting several reagents and between them is dH2O, first pipette the water. This, in general, will not contaminate the rest (for example: PCR). If the pipette does not touch anything, you can reuse it, especially in cell culture when you pipette carefully for not touching anything.
  3. Use glass pipettes instead of single-use plastic ones.
  4. Autoclave / Sterilize all the glass material I can.
  5. Borrow before buying a new one.
  6. Turn off the machines when not using them, seems silly but a laminal flow or a refrigerated centrifuge lit all day long without consume much energy.
  7. Do not print all the articles / protocols, if there is something in particular that you need, write it on a used paper.
  8. Use empty cans as pipettes or waste bins, instead of new bags, when possible.
  9. Organize your samples well so as not to lose them and have to repeat the experiment, sometimes the -80s are like a tailor where there are thousands of eppis buried there.
  10. Make sure the reagents are properly stored to avoid buying new ones.


The irony of all this is that laboratories would often save money if they applied any of these criteria. However, right now it seems that the laboratory that reuses the least is because it has more resources.

Do not forget that great discoveries or great ideas in science are not linked to using a machine. The important thing is to find solutions to current problems. Therefore, you can have ideas conserving the environment.

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