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Biotechnology Labs: P2 Opportunities
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons to Change
P2 Opportunities
Where To Go for P2 Help
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

Green Chemistry Institute Pharmaceutical Roundtable
[Requires registration] The Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) and global pharmaceutical corporations d...

Rummaging Through the Green Chemistry Toolbox
Synopsis of presentations for green chemistry opportunities at pharmaceuticals, including solvent se...

There are many opportunities for biotech firms to improve environmental performance and minimize waste. These pollution prevention opportunities for biotech research, along with a few resources for biotech manufacturing, are categorized below, in the following areas:

The highest priority in pollution prevention is the source reduction component - which aims to avoid the use of resources, eliminate or reduce use of toxic materials, and reduce generation of waste and pollution. For the biotech industry, worthy opportunities also exist in reuse, recycling, waste management, and treatment.

The following suggestions are meant to include as many options as possible, knowing that some may work for one company or application, but not for others. Some suggested opportunities may require evaluation and testing prior to implementing.

One obstacle to change in existing manufacturing processes, and less so to the research and discovery phases, is that a drug manufacturing process is frozen once the product is licensed by the FDA. The production methods cannot be changed without significant investment of time and money to relicense. However, changes can be instigated during development of the next generation of an existing product. These conditions and stipulations do not apply to research, discovery, or pre-clinical trial phase.

Disclaimer: Mention of specific brand name products or equipment does not constitute endorsement of these products or equipment by the EPA, PPRC, or P2Rx. Additionally, any suggestions below that may impact regulatory or functional or technical performance require evaluation by the individual company prior to adopting.

Source Reduction and Green Chemistry

Source reduction opportunities in biotech research are categorized into various areas such as chemical purchasing, chemical use and management, substitution, energy and water conservation, and other areas. Many of these suggestions fall in line with "Green Chemistry" and "Green Engineering" principles. Green Chemistry encompasses the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous substances and resulting hazardous waste. Green engineering is the development and commercialization of industrial processes that are economically feasible and reduce the risk to human health and the environment. For more information on the twelve principles of green chemistry and engineering, visit American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute.

The following source reduction opportunities are listed under:
- Chemical Purchasing
- Chemical Use, Storage, and Management
- Chemical and Material Substitution
- Additional Green Chemistry and Green Engineering
- Glass Washing
- Waste Segregation for Optimal Recycling, Treatment, or Disposal

Chemical Purchasing

  • Establish credible relationships with chemical suppliers. Try to get full disclosure from suppliers on MSDS sheets - (manufacturers are not required to list ingredients if they are present lower than one percent by weight. Low levels of thimerosol - which is 60% mercury - can cause reagent to exceed regulatory mercury level of 0.2 parts per million - or ppm.)
  • Along those same lines, develop a vendor questionnaire for future purchases - to help identify and avoid hazardous materials when purchasing decisions are made.
  • Encourage responsible participation by chemical suppliers who can provide quick delivery of small orders and who will accept return of unopened stock.
  • Consider a vendor managed chemical inventory system.
  • Order hazardous substances and expirable chemicals in the smallest quantity required for immediate use. The American Chemical Society estimates that unused chemicals in their original containers account for as much as 40% of lab waste. A sizable portion of the hazardous waste created by biotech labs also consists of unused, outdated chemicals.
  • Buy in bulk for chemicals that do not expire, to reduce packaging and fuel consumption for extra shipping.
  • If high-purity gases are required, ensure suppliers provide a certificate of analysis (not just a certificate of conformance) for the end-use product contained in the cylinder [1].
  • Work with suppliers to purchase as many compressed gases as possible in reusable cylinders. Some cylinders containing exotic or hazardous gases may not be reusable. If cylinders are not reusable, and rendered non-hazardous, consider removing the valves and recycling the metal.

Chemical Use, Storage, and Management

  • Use centralized purchasing and stocking, through one person or department, for as many reagents and chemicals as possible, and especially for higher toxicity chemicals.
  • Do not stock highly toxic chemicals for general use, such as benzene, chloroform, sodium azide, carbon disulfide, chromic acid, and reagents or fixatives containing mercury, or reagents containing barium arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium or silver.
  • Avoid Zenker's and B5 fixatives that contain mercuric chloride.
  • Use pre mixed phenol/chloroform solutions.
  • Devise a system to support sharing chemicals. Two options include via centralized purchasing, or chemical inventory software to track on-site inventories and disposal. One biotech firm in Washington implemented an intranet setup with a web based front end allowing employees to view their own personal inventories as well as the inventories of colleagues, including expiration dates.
  • Optimize all protocols so as to use the exact amount needed to get the results.
  • Purchase automated, high-purity solvent delivery systems. These systems store solvent under inert gas and gas pressure, for easy and accurate dispensing. Suppliers will typically take back empty containers for refill.
  • If they will reduce hazardous waste, evaluate use of pre-made kits, utilizing minimal reagent volumes, as an alternative for gels used in analysis of DNA fragments.
  • Use pre-cast polyacrylamide gels.
  • Purchase pre-mixed raw material instead of mixing in-house, to reduce employee exposure and potential for hazardous flammable liquid spills.
  • Avoid aerosol dispensers for hazardous materials such as isopropanol. Accidental spray can result in exposure to face and skin, and aerosols increase the amount of respirable product in the air.
  • Rotate chemicals to ensure use before their shelf life expires.
  • Evaluate chemical expiration dates with suppliers to see if any expiration dates can be extended.
  • Utilize best management practices for spill prevention and containment in storage.
  • Employ secondary containment even for chemicals in hood and cupboards below hood and in biological safety cabinets (BSC).
  • Avoid evaporation of solvents and volatile liquids stored in "open" solvent-using containers, pump dispensers, or vessels used for used for thin-layer chromatography. One product solution is VapLock(TM) Closed Systems.
  • Cover flasks and beakers containing solvents with parafilm when not in active use.
  • Properly label containers and wastes.
  • Store chemicals under proper environmental conditions to maximize shelf life.
  • Install cup sink guards around cup sinks, including those in fume hoods, to prevent chemicals from entering the sanitary sewer.
  • Mare sure all substances being disposed of are compatible with each other and piping system.
  • Utilize bottle top pumps with a set pumping volume to minimize over-use of bleach in tissue culture disinfection. The two major standards require disinfection with either 5% or 10% bleach. One biotech company purchased standard bottle top pumps with a set pumping volume and labeled each bleach bottle with the number of pumps of bleach required per liter of waste.

Chemical and Material Substitution

Some researchers have strong preferences for certain methods or reagents, and it may be difficult to investigate change unless it is well proven that the results will not be affected. Therefore, these suggestions are offered as potential options to consider. Where available, anecdotal accounts of successful changes are included.

  • Substitute non-toxic or less toxic solvents for xylene as a clearing solvent. The available alternatives may be more expensive than xylene, and all of these substitutes still require disposal as hazardous waste. Formula 83 is the only xylene substitute that contains a central cyclohexane ring. As such, it does not have any double bonds in the ring, and, as a result, is not toxic. Formula 83's manufacturer reports that its performance is equal to or exceeds xylene, depending on the application, provides greater slide clarity and nuclear detail, is faster drying, dissolves paraffin faster, and is not toxic. Formula 83 does not harden tissue, as xylene does, and it has better lipid extraction. Washington State users report reliability in fixing the tissues, and some feel Formula 83 actually works better than xylene.

Other non-toxic substitutes for xylene are aliphatic hydrocarbons such as Propar(TM) and Clearite(TM), but aliphatic hydrocarbon solvents have been reported to have about one-third the solvent activity of xylene.

A third xylene substitute is d-limonene which has been reported to have almost the same solvent activity as xylene, but is quite slow drying and can leave an oily residue. In addition, it has been reported that d-limonene still poses some toxicity, that it can act as an allergen, and that it causes nausea in some people.

  • Evaluate ethanol as a substitute for formaldehyde in biological specimen storage.
  • Evaluate a faster, and solvent-free replacement for Western Blot, to avoid use of methanol or ethanol solution for the transfer. iBlot(TM) Dry Blotting System is one alternative, available from Invitrogen. (Select United States, then search products on "iBlot"). This system does not require an external power supply.
  • Evaluate ethanol as a substitute for methanol in the destain process.
  • Evaluate new dyes that do not require methanol/acetic acid solution in the fixative and de-stain solutions used for protein gel assays.
  • Evaluate formalin-free fixatives. In histology settings, Prefer(TM) or Safe-Fix(TM) have been used as effective substitute preservatives to formalin on small specimens but have been found to be less effective on larger tissues due to their slower penetration rate. Other formalin-free alternatives include FineFix(TM), ExCell Plus(TM), Optimal*Fix(TM), and Bouin's 2000(TM). (Bouin's 2000 is also free of picric acid).
  • Change radioactive assays to luminescent-based assays for protein labeling, DNA sequencing, tagging, blotting, imaging, and radioimmunoassays (RIA). Recent advances in enzyme immuno assays (EIA) and enzyme-linked immunosorbant assays (ELISA) may provide high enough sensitivity for many applications.
  • Replace toluene scintillation cocktails with a biodegradable, non-flammable cocktail to reduce the quantity of mixed radiological waste. If these are used, check with state or local regulations on maximum radioactive levels that may allow dumping of the cocktail directly to the process sewer. Washington State lists three cocktails at
  • For isolation and purification of DNA, replace chloroform-phenol extractions with techniques developed by Promega or Stratagene (Lambda DNA Purification Kit).
  • Substitute silver stain assays with commassie blue dye assay to eliminate silver waste.
  • Substitute stearic acid for acetamide in phase change and freezing point depression.
  • If periodic decontamination is necessary, install vaporous hydrogen peroxide (VHP) decontamination (decon) systems in biological safety cabinets, fume hoods, HEPA filters, and rooms. The advantages of VHP decon are that it replaces the toxic paraformaldehyde decon, no clean up is necessary, and the hydrogen peroxide breaks down to non-toxic products (water and oxygen). The Washington Department of Health uses a vapor pipe-in system with fans, and reports that it is more effective than paraformaldehyde. Another type of system uses rotating nozzles to distribute the fumigant, which is 30 to 35% concentration of flash-evaporated hydrogen peroxide.
  • For protein transfer applications, particularly those involving high molecular weight proteins, try 20% ethanol instead of 20% methanol in the conducting solution.
  • Replace PVC or latex gloves with nitrile gloves. (PVC produces dioxins during manufacture and incineration, may contain lead and phthalates as stabilizer and plasticizer, respectively. Latex gloves may cause allergies).
  • Use insulated shipping containers that can be easily reused by the receiving entity, such as a cushioned polyethylene insulated shipper (example seen at Thermosafe InsulatedShipper-PE).
  • Evaluate the feasibility of replacing 2-propanol with water in rotary evaporators.
  • Use less toxic custodial products throughout the facility. Greenseal has certified standards and product lists for various institutional cleaning needs.
  • Work with customers and the FDA as necessary to eliminate thimerosal (mercury preservative) in future processes and products.
  • Replace mercury thermometers with alcohol, digital, or mercury-free metal thermometers.
  • Use software to determine the greenest methods and reagents. For example:
  • The Environmental Assessment Tool For Organic Syntheses (EATOS) is software that evaluates environmental performance metrics for daily use in synthetic chemistry. The software can be used to compare and improve chemical reactions. It was was developed by J. Metzger, and M. Eissen, and is available, with registration, at
  • Rowan University developed a solvent selection toolkit applicable to pharmaceutical manufacturing. The tool covers solvents that should be avoided, their environmental impact, and health and safety issues associated with specific solvents. To access this tool, go to and login using 'guest' as username and password. Click on "Software", then go to LCA Resources.
  • Although only available internally to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) staff, the FLASC software (Fast Lifecycle Assessment for Synthetic Chemistry) was developed by GSK to allow bench chemists to perform streamlined evaluations of the life cycle environmental impacts of new or existing processes. FLASC assesses eight different life cycle environmental impact categories associated with materials used in synthetic routes or manufacturing processes.

Additional Green Chemistry and Green Engineering

  • Drug concentrations are now being identified in surface water, ground water and drinking water, due to metabolized and unmetabolized drugs in excrement, a common practice of flushing unused drugs down the toilet at nursing homes and residences, and general disposal of unused drugs in landfills, which can eventually leach to groundwater. Consensus from groups investigating this issue have determined that additional research is needed on the fate and effects of pharmaceuticals and their transformation products at levels detected in the environment. For this reason, and because global requirements for reducing persistent, bioaccumulative toxins are posed to become more stringent, some biotech companies are working to redesign their pharmaceutical products to reduce bioaccumulative properties. To learn more about this issue and opportunity, two resources are:

    - The summary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Meeting on Pharmaceuticals in the Environment, May 2005; and,

    - ILSI Health And Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) HESI Bioaccumulation of Chemicals Subcommittee, which discusses an ongoing, collaborative effort to develop Review potential opportunities and bioaccumulation modelings for pharmaceuticals.

  • Scale down experiments with microscale (miniature) labware, and instrumentation that requires minute quantities for quantitative determinations. For example, a top-count, microliter plate reader reduces about 400 percent of the amount of scintillation cocktail required per biological assay. Use High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) with reduced column size.
  • Evaluate high through-put chemistry instrumentation to determine if it can reduce your current sample size.
  • If more efficient and will result in less reagent consumption, use automated processors, stainers, slide and cassette labelers, and coverslippers.
  • Install newer HPLC units capable of purifying proteins using an aqueous solution made of water and sewer acceptable salts.
  • Use newer generation synthesis process instrumentation to reduce reagent use. One example is the CustomArray (TM) synthesizer from Combimatrix.
  • For safety purposes, use gas monitoring systems in storage and use areas for cylinder gases, and cryogenic liquids. For example, a small spill of liquid nitrogen expands to 697 times its liquid volume when it vaporizes. This could displace oxygen, potentially creating an oxygen-poor environment [1].
  • Purchase re-usable test tubes to aliquot solvents instead of disposable test tubes.
  • If ethidium bromide is used, employ charcoal filtration, (e.g., funnel kits or Green Bags?), to remove ethidium bromide from solutions. This minimizes waste, eliminates drain disposal of bleach solutions, and/or eliminates other potentially hazardous chemicals used to deactivate ethidium bromide.
  • Store dry ice in well insulated containers. To minimize sublimation due to convection (air movement in the container), fill voids in the storage container with styrofoam chunks or paper.
  • Use diaphragm pumps to minimize the use of water aspirators.
  • Convert to oil-free vacuum pumps, such as diaphragm pumps.
  • Implement a comprehensive preventative maintenance program. This includes maintaining all equipment, fume hoods and BSCs, storage and secondary containment, and other facility equipment to prevent accidental exposures, releases, spills or leaks.
  • Train and educate employees regarding specific hazards and include work methods that help reduce contaminant exposure.
  • Do not use the fume hood as a means to evaporate chemicals.
  • Keep lab doors closed to ensure negative room pressure to the corridor and proper air flow into the hood.
  • Replace lab photography with digital photography, or a film-free luminometer to eliminate the processed film waste.
  • If deionized water is generated on site, consider outsourcing the bed resin regeneration. Experts can provide more efficient regeneration that also improves the operational life of the bed resin. This eliminates a several-hour hazardous process, reduces in-house generation of wastewater, and in-house use of corrosives, and reduction in treatment material purchases.
  • Share periodical subscriptions company wide rather than having multiple subscriptions.
  • If possible, try to reduce the bioaccumulative and persistent nature of biotech products during development, to minimize their future impact on the environment as a result of metabolized and unmetabolized drugs released to wastewater treatment facilities, and/or poor disposal practices for unused drugs.
  • Consider offering, or participate in efforts to implement pharmaceutical takeback programs.

Glass Washing

  • Avoid chromic-sulfuric acid or methylene chloride for glass washing.
  • Use hot water and organic dishwashing solutions before using solvents. If the soapy water does not work, then use acetone, or spent solvents for the next pass, and new solvent for the final pass. (Some companies have had good experience with these dishwashing products - Alconox, Miro, or RBS35).
  • Provide high-quality scrub brushes, and encourage scrubbing with brushes rather than simply pouring solvent on the glassware.
  • Do not use solvent to expedite drying.
  • Rather than squirting solvent over glassware and equipment to clean, dip the material into a designated container of acetone and use a brush to aid cleaning. When not in active use, close the container lid tightly.
  • Purchase ultrasonicators for cleaning at the lab bench. An ultrasonicator usually performs much better than simply soaking them in Alconox and rinsing with water. There are several types of detergents available for use in an ultrasonicator.
  • Ensure automatic glass washers are run only when fully loaded.
  • Select washers that use the least water and have the shortest cycle times. (Some units use 1/3 less water per cycle and have 75 percent shorter cycle times than older models). This imparts energy savings by not having to heat large volumes of water that then is flushed into the sanitary sewer and reduces chemical detergent use.

Waste Segregation for Optimal Recycling, Treatment, or Disposal

  • Comply with all regulations regarding handling and segregation of hazardous, infectious, and radioactive wastes.
  • Place all non-contaminated PPE and other non-recyclable or non-reusable supplies in regular solid waste.
  • Collect formalin, xylene and ethanol separately for hazardous waste pickup or recycling.
  • Segregate and remove ethanol from HPLC waste stream to reduce the total amount of acetonitrile-based waste. Bulk the ethanol for on- or off-site recycling, or fuel blending.
  • Do not contaminate used oil with any other chemical or material - especially water.
  • Make every reasonable effort to empty and clean vials and pipettes to avoid hazardous status.
  • Segregate methylene chloride waste from non-chlorinated solvents to facilitate recycling.
  • Label waste and recycling collection containers so it is unmistakably clear which waste or recycling streams go in which container. Train staff and enforce proper segregation.
  • Do not allow anything but sharps in sharps containers. Many items such as serological pipets, disposable glassware (used to aliquot solvents) and tips used with non-hazardous materials are put into the biological or hazardous waste containers, usually because it is quite simple and requires no thought. If pipets and tips are disposed of as non-hazardous waste, there could be a cost savings and reduction in the amount of hazardous waste processed. BioSystems offers a FDA-approved reusable sharps container in four sizes, that will hold sharps and other pathological waste. The larger containers come with appropriate dollies and step on mechanisms for ease of use. The service includes a pick up schedule based on generation rates. The service reduces the chance of filling (or overfilling) the sharps containers. The system reduces the need for disposable sharps containers and for secondary packaging and bags as all containers are shipped on DOT exempt racks to the appropriate treatment facility. So far, in the Northwest, the system has reduced needle sticks in each facility and reduced over 350,000 lbs of plastic from our landfills.
  • Never discharge picric acid solutions to drains with metallic pipes or soldered joints, or allow it to be in contact with metal. If it is, assume the piping is contaminated with explosive metal picrate salts.
  • Use common solvents for all different HPLC applications so that synthetic and analytical wastes can be bulked together.
  • For flammable liquid bulk waste that otherwise might be incinerated, maintain as high BTU content as possible and work with the provider to assure the bulk drums are used for fuel blending instead of incineration.

Energy Efficiency

  • Install the most energy-efficient fans for ventilated equipment (fume hoods, BSCs, balance enclosures, gas cabinets, chemical storage, cage rack), and the facility HVAC system.
  • Install energy-efficient fume hoods. Conventional fume hoods require a tremendous amount of energy, since they need to exhaust large quantities of tempered air. One option is the low-flow fume hood which typically operates with less exhaust flow than would be required to produce 100 feet per minute (fpm) with a full open vertical sash. Lower flowrates are achieved by sash restrictions and supposed improved aerodynamic design that allows for lower face velocities. These use up to 75% less energy than conventional fume hood systems, are compatible with small HVAC systems, and do not require a control system. As an alternative to low-flow fume hoods, the variable-air-volume (VAV) hoods use a closed loop control system giving the ability to vary air volume exhausted through the hood depending on the hood sash position. They eliminate excess face velocity that can generate turbulence leading to contaminated air spillage, endangering the worker. They also reduce the total quantity of supply and exhaust air to a space when not needed. The system continuously measures and adjusts the amount of air being exhausted to maintain the required average face velocity. Many VAV hoods are also equipped with visual and audible alarms and gauges to notify the worker of hood malfunction or insufficient face velocity.
  • Use the appropriate "class" and "type" of biological safety cabinet (BSC) and save energy by minimizing the intake velocity and the cabinet opening area.
  • Turn BSCs and fume hoods off when not in use.
  • If suitable for the operation, use glove boxes instead of BSCs for substantially reduced air flow and exhaust. (These may be too cumbersome for many processes.)
  • Ensure automatic glass washers are run only when fully loaded.
  • Select washers that use the least water and have the shortest cycle times. (Some units use 1/3 less water per cycle and have 75 percent shorter cycle times than older models.) This imparts energy savings by not having to heat large volumes of water that then is flushed into the sanitary sewer. It also reduces chemical detergent needs.
  • Insulate hot and chilled water systems and pipes.
  • When not in use, turn the power off to the rotary arm of the "rotovap."
  • Consider recirculating the heating and cooling air from office areas to the labs (where air cannot be reused) and expelled.
  • Install more efficient fluorescent lighting.
  • Install LED exit signs.
  • If possible, automatically reduce lab ventilation rates when the facility is unoccupied.
  • Install energy efficient exhaust fans.
  • Install heat recovery units for lab exhaust air.
  • Install heat recovery unit(s) for glass wash waste water.
  • Install high efficiency chillers, glass washers, and cold storage units.
  • Use automatic night time setback of laboratory ventilation rates and lighting, when the facility is unoccupied.
  • Install motion sensors to control lighting where feasible.
  • Implement a commuter trip reduction program.
  • Turn off equipment and computers at night, and monitors if they will not be used for the next 30 minutes or longer.

Water Efficiency

  • Install automated water shut-off valves on autoclaves, that activate when condensate cools down to 140dF.
  • Install a water recycling system for glass wash waste water.
  • Install water recirculation or recycling system(s) to reuse cooling, heating water for non-potable applications such as flushing toilets, irrigation, cooling water for autoclaves, or in air scrubbers.
  • Evaluate the reuse of reverse osmosis (RO) discharge water back into the RO system or for other non-potable uses, such as cooling towers, toilets, lab sinks (non-potable only), or cooling water for autoclaves.
  • If distilled, deionized, pure, ultrapure, water for injection (WFI) and other grades of water are produced on-site, recover the reject water or discharge water for non-potable uses.
  • Install flow restrictors on sinks and rinse tanks.
  • Experiment with reduced rinse times to see if product quality is affected.
  • Eliminate one-pass or continuous flow cooling systems. Install chilled water loops fed by the central Chilled Water Plant in most engineering laboratories to replace cooling systems relying on pass-through water cooling.
  • Install heat exchangers in cooling systems.
  • Overhaul faulty steam traps on steam sterilizers.
  • Reduce cage wash water (and energy consumption) by installing newer washer models with improved features and options to better utilize both utility and water efficiency throughout the cleaning and disinfection cycle process. These highly efficient washers now can provide the same cleaning and disinfection with water consumptions of less than 50 gallons per cycle or lower, with additional options such as higher-efficiency motors and transformers, redefinition of cycle parameters, reduction of sump sizes, reutilization of wash waters, reduced heating temperatures of non-temperature sensitive phases of the cycle, drain-water heat recovery systems to preheat incoming water, and HVAC heat recovery.
  • Add water flow restrictors for room cleaning.
  • Turn water pumps off when not needed - to save over one gallon of water per minute.
  • Replace water cooled evaporators with dry ice traps.

Reuse and Recycling

The distinction between reuse and recycling is sometimes blurred, however both options for spent or expired materials generated by biotech facilities help to reduce the energy, water, pollution, and raw material consumption associated with manufacturing virgin products. Opportunities include:

  • Optimize solvent waste segregation system(s) to maximize reuse or recovery of solvents.
  • Reuse 2-propanol in cold baths several times.
  • Reuse styrofoam packaging containers - either for outbound shipments, or by returning them to the original owner.
  • Check with suppliers for other returnable and reusable packaging. If suppliers deliver direct, they may be able to backhaul their packaging that can be reused. One company that supplies pipet tips takes back the tip boxes.
  • If liability issues can be addressed, donate surplus chemicals to other departments, labs, educational facility labs, or post them on web material exchanges.
  • Consider on-site recycling of certain solvents, alcohol, or formalin using distillation or filtration. For some companies, this makes financial and environmental sense, if the recycling is capable of high enough purity for reuse on site. Several Northwest biotechs and medical facilities recycle ethanol, xylene, or xylene substitutes, and formalin at their facility. In-house recycling does require diligent segregation of different solvents, and extra space for additional waste containers within each generation area. Solvent recycling systems must capture all vapors so they are not released to the air, unless authorized by state and/or local agencies. Involve the local fire department to determine if a permit is required before purchasing equipment. Additionally, log all on-site reagent recycling or recovery operations, including what was recycled, the original suppler, what process it was previously used, quantity, date, and who conducted the recycling process.

    • - One recycling technology (from CBG Biotech Recycling) is a multi-component and fractional distillation processor that uses several boiling and condensation cycles to purify ethanol. The system has little to no set up time for a run and the machine has built-in safeguards. For distillation systems, vacuum assist can lower boiling temperature, which reduces fire hazards.
      - Another technology for recovery of alcohols and xylene is a gravitational filtering system, which allows continual use of the reagents until the filtered solution tests too dilute. One system, offered by Creative Waste Solutions, Inc. can also recover formalin from dirty tissue processors, but requires a different filter. Any type of buffered phosphate or zinc formalin, as well as alcoholic formalin is recoverable but each type of formalin requires its own system. The formalin does not need to be re-buffered, but does require a pH check prior to use.
  • Send packaging peanuts to other companies or mail centers (most Mail Boxes, Etc. locations) that will take and reuse.
  • Require compressed gas suppliers to take back and refill empty cylinders.
  • Check with suppliers, haulers, or other local outlets for reuse of wood pallets.

For materials not recycled on site, establish contracts with commercial service recycler(s) or exchange(s) for:

  • Spent solvents
  • Oil from vacuum pumps and other equipment
  • Formalin
  • Ethanol (in some cases and times it may only be feasible for use in fuel blending)
  • Chlorinated compounds
  • Solvent bottles
  • Silica gel
  • Silver from x-ray transparencies and photographic chemicals (if traditional, wet-processing photography and x-ray remain the only viable options)
  • Spent fixer
  • Lead (which can be melted down and converted to lead bricks used as radioactive materials shielding)
  • Wood pallets
  • Packaging materials (that cannot be reused)
  • Batteries
  • Plastics (Most clean plastics #1 to 7, except that most recyclers do not take expanded polystyrene peanuts or packaging)
  • Fluorescent lamps
  • Non-alkaline batteries
  • Paper and cardboard and packaging
  • Aluminum
  • Electronics, especially surplus monitors and computer equipment
  • Toner cartridges
  • Steel
  • Spent gas cylinders that may have value as metal


On-site treatment is an option for some lab wastes that cannot be otherwise recovered or recycled, as long as all federal, state, and local regulations and exposure protections are met. Some treatment options include:

  • Autoclave biohazardous wastes except for liquid and sharps.
  • If it meets local, state, and federal requirements, neutralize acids, bases, and formalin. All neutralization must be logged, covering materials and supplier, where the materials were used, amounts, times, and person conducting the neutralization. ** Neutralization allows discharge to the sanitary sewer ONLY IF no other hazardous or dangerous waste characteristics AND neutralization does not effectively change the characteristic of the waste.
  • As a last resort, if solvents are not reusable, recyclable, usable as fuel, etc., it may be acceptable to evaporate "soups" of mixed solvents as long as there is a coil condenser designed to capture vapors. Check with local authorities before adopting this practice.
  • Establish a safe radioactive decay program for all isotopes with half-lives less than 90 days.

Resources for Manufacturing

Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., estimates that it takes up to 1,760 pounds of solvent to manufacture 2.2 pounds of certain medications. And organic solvents account for about 80 percent of the wastes in a typical drug manufacturing process. Dr. Slater, at Rowan University helped develop a solvent selection toolkit applicable to pharmaceutical manufacturing, which contains information on a range of solvents to make a manufacturing process more benign. The tool covers solvents that should be avoided, their environmental impact, and health and safety issues associated with specific solvents. To access this tool, go to and login using 'guest' as username and password. Click on "Software", then go to LCA Resources.

Minimize environmental impacts of packaging designs with reduced materials and lightweighting, non-toxic materials, reusable materials, recycled content materials, and recyclable or biodegradable materials.

[1] Scheruing, S. 2005. Gas Selection/Management for the Biotech Lab. BioPharm International.


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Hub Last Updated: 1/16/2014