Recently I ordered a few of my favorite Human Albumin ELISA kits from Abcam. I thought it would be interesting to check out the stock of potential recyclable material that came with! Let's check it out:
I ordered 3 kits, and you can see they arrived in a large EPS cooler. It was nice to open the box and see the cooler nested in it perfectly - no extra padding/packing peanuts needed!
When I opened up the cooler, I was greeted with some inflatable void fill padding. Personally I believe that this is a much more environmentally friendly fill than an alternative like packaging peanuts: less material, less volume, and - as you can see below - it's #4 low-density polyethylene, which means if you deflate it, it can go directly into the blue recycling bin.
Next came the top layer of three large ice packs. There were two more small ones as you can see in the pictures. All said these were collected and upcycled - I put them into one of our freezers so we could use them for future outgoing shipments.
And of course, the assays themselves! The boxes are a rigid cardboard or foam board - I'm not sure if this is recyclable. Opening one kit reveals a small protocol booklet inside a cardboard sleeve, which is odd and an unnecessary use of paper. The ELISA plate itself is packaged in a poly-laminated foil zip bag - from what I can find online you can recycle this product, but please correct me if I'm wrong. I'm pretty sure the blue foam is polyurethane, which is similar to EPS in it's ability to be recycled, but also shares the same volume-to-weight issues. Finally, all of the small bottles are either plastic or glass; check with your Environmental Officer, but if everything is cleaned properly every one of them can be recycled. The only part of this kit that must be disposed of is the ELISA plate itself (and depending on what your sample is, it might be possible to clean and recycle that too!).
So all said and done, I'm looking at a shipment that is >90% reusable. Once I break down the shipping box, I'm left with an absolutely pristine EPS cooler. I've been able to collect ~$30 of upcycle material (the cooler itself, and the ice packs) that will help offset future lab costs, and divert almost all of the impact of this particular ELISA out of the landfill and into the recycling stream. This approach to assessing products as they come into the lab should definitely help to reduce my research's footprint to the minimum biological and chemical waste necessary. I want to salute Abcam (who did not contribute in any way to this post) for their overall excellent approach to packing waste mitigation.
Let me know if you've got an assay or piece of equipment you'd like me to review!
Happy recycling! Joshua