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Green Practices Committee: Chemical Awareness and Sustainability: AASHE Stars Labs Benchmarking Summer 2019


On this page some findings researched by Melanie Gainey, neuroscientist and Biological Sciences Liaison Librarian

  • labs and hazardous waste
  • minimizing waste
  • chemical substitutes

Common Strategies: Beloit, Cornell, Creighton, Fort Lewis, Indiana Bloomington, Southern Illinois Carbondale UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced

  • Good suggestions coming out of the UCs
  • Having common surplus inventory to share unused chemicals
  • Micro-experiments
  • Refilling bottles in a stock/inventory room
  • Provide departments feedback on waste generation
  • Consulting with labs to help them reduce waste
  • Chemical substitutions, e.g. ethidium bromide, nickel and chromium salts etc.

Library Resources for Chemical Safety ~ Neelam Bharti (CMU Chemistry Librarian)

Notes AASHE hazardous waste

Hazardous Waste Mangement


  •  adheres to the State of ME environmental regulations for the disposal of hazardous, universal & chemical waste
  •  State of ME environmental regulations are significantly more stringent than federal regulations.
  •  implementing a silver recovery unit inphoto labs
  •  chemistry department has unique policies to minimize its waste​
  •  biomedical waste disposed of by certified third-party company
  •  radioactive waste is minimized and stored until it is harmless and no longer radioactive.

Suny Cortland

  • End users of chemicals are requested to order only what they will use and not stock-pile chemicals/products that would require disposal as hazardous or non-regulated waste
  •  campus Chemical Hygienist receives the list of chemicals/products for disposal,reviews the list and determine if another department might have a use for a chemical/product; contacts suppliers and manufacturers to determine if they will take back unused, unopened chemicals/products instead of disposing as hazardous waste.

Oregon State University Corvallis

  • reduction strategies include
    • Accurate labeling to prevent improper disposal of unknown hazardous material
    • combining flammable organic solvents for reuse as off-site fuel
    • separating halogenated solvents for solvent recovery
    • ​reusing/redistributing chemicals when materials come from unopened containers or partially used containers of high quality​,
    • neutralizing of chemical wastes which have corrosive properties
    • purchasing chemicals in a manner that does not exceed anticipated needs
    • modifying procedures to reduce the hazard or amount of waste product
    • using less hazardous materials in procedures in general.
    • environmental Health and Safety at OSU makes available a chemical reuse inventory on their web page; chemicals are available to departments for no charge.

McGill Green Labs Initiative

Francois Shalom. Green Labs Initiative: An SPF success story. McGill Reporter, October 2, 2019.
"A team of post-graduate students and academic staff are striving for a transition to environmentally friendly labs at McGill"

 McGill University was awarded  International Sustainability Institution of the Year in July 2019 as part of the United Nations High Level Political Forum. Some interesting developments, which began with their Vision 2020 analysis in 2012 includes their current Sustainability Funds Project (SFP).  Students are paying $0.55 per credit, with the University matching the contributions. Over 200 projects have been funded to date spanning a wide range of types and funding levels including a hiking trail a Green Labs Initiative and McGill Feeding McGill.


AASHE search:
US Institutions, Waste, Hazardous Waste Management, Brief Description of Minimizing Waste, search for “substitute”

Common Strategies with Examples from Schools below
Note: Good suggestions coming out of the UCs

  • Having common surplus inventory to share unused chemicals
  • Micro-experiments
  •  Refilling bottles in a stock/inventory room
  •  Provide departments feedback on waste generation
  • Consulting with labs to help them reduce waste
  • Chemical substitutions: ethidium bromide, nickel and chromium salts etc.

Beloit College

  • Chemical Reuse
    • unused and unopened chemicals being disposed of as waste due to a change in research or discontinuation of a specific research protocol should be redistributed to other laboratories that can utilize the chemical to reduce chemical waste.
    • Sharing unused chemicals will reduce the amount of chemical waste generated.
    • specific applicable chemicals (typically stable compounds with a long shelf life) picked up by the CHO and segregated in the CAA; chemicals inventoried in their new location.
  • Inventory Control
    • each lab/studio/shop is encouraged to maintain an appropriate chemical inventory in their laboratory to reduce unnecessary purchase and disposal
    • methods to reduce the amount of chemicals in labs
      • minimize waste generated from expired or unwanted excess chemicals
      • check  inventory and storerooms before ordering
      • purchase smaller containers of chemicals or fewer containers of chemicals.
      • avoid purchasing larger quantities of chemicals to save on raw material costs. (Chemical disposal costs are often much higher than the initial purchase cost.)
      • Rotate stock of chemicals in use to ensure the older chemicals are used before the newer chemicals
  • Substitution of Less Hazardous Chemicals
    • In some instances, chemicals that are more environmentally friendly substituted for traditionally used chemicals. Examples
      • Propylene glycol instead of Ethylene glycol
      • ethyl alcohol instead of methyl alcohol
      • alcohol thermometers instead of mercury thermometers
      • Alconox, Pierce RBS35 and Nochromix instead of chromic acid cleaning solutions
      • detergent and hot water instead of rganic solvent cleaning solutions
  • Microscale (in the laboratory)
    • Microscale chemistry: prevention method that decreases the amount of chemical waste generated during laboratory experiments.
    • standard chemistry procedures are re-written for individual experiments
    • specialized microscale equipment is utilized to perform the work.
    • amount of a particular chemical needed for an experiment has been decreased by as much as 99 percent in some cases
    • Benefits:
      • reduce chemical waste produced at the source
      • improve laboratory safety by decreasing potential exposure to chemicals and reducing fire and explosion hazards
      • improve air quality due to greatly reduced volumes of solvents and other volatile substances used
      • reduce laboratory costs for chemical purchase and disposal
      • reduce time required to perform experiments due to shorter chemical reaction times
      • decrease amount of storage space necessary for chemicals
      • encourage students to think about waste minimization
      • decrease disposal costs for the university
      • increase environmental awareness for the university.


  • Unused chemicals offered for redistribution to other labs.
  • computers and peripherals used for as long as possible and redeployed as we are able.

Creighton University

  • The Chemical Storage Facility is a central storage and distribution area for chemicals on campus;  thet refill small chemical bottles (e.g. bases) from bulk orders, minimizing packaging/bottle waste

Fort Lewis College

  • dedicated to reducing hazardous, universal, and non-regulated chemical wastes
  • in recent years, the institution has
    • replaced a chemistry experiment that required sodium cyanide
    • moved towards the usage of ​micro-chemistry​ techniques
    • ​tracked waste levels and provided feedback to departments about their progress
    • transitioned from mercury to CFL bulbs
    • Initiated an aerosol collection/disposal program
    • stopped conducting fleet oil changes and antifreeze changes on-site
    • ​switched to gel packs in the Biology department to reduce ethidium bromide waste
    • used neutralization product in the Biology department to reduce volume of hazardous waste from specimen preservation

Indiana University - Bloomington

  •  guidelines for employees for hazardous waste minimization.
    • inventory chemicals most important step you can take toward waste minimization
      • inventory is invaluable tool in emergency situations
      • chemical inventory is required under the hazard communication standard
      • check  current inventory before ordering to avoid unnecessary purchases
      • note the date a container is acquired or opened on the container
      • use older chemicals before purchasing or opening new bottles 
      • order only what you need: buy what you will use in a reasonable time period.
      • buying in bulk rarely saves money when you consider disposal costs of unused material
      • start small when testing a new experiment; purchase small amounts to perform trials of new procedure
      •  borrow small amounts of chemicals from other labs; take time to check.
      • centralize purchasing; stop duplicate ordering by designating one person/group to be responsible
      • purchase compressed gas cylinders/lecture bottles  from manufacturers who will accept returns of empty cylinders.
      • use recycled or second hand chemicals whenever possible
      • check to see whether other labs in your building can use the material.
      • pay special attention when you hear of a lab group that is moving or a work group that is changing a process
      • evaluate the possibility of redistillation of waste solvents in your lab
      • reduce the amount of product used= reduce the scale of experiments; periodically review your procedures to see if this is possible.
      •  read and follow instruction; get away from the false belief that “if one cup works, then 2 cups will really be great
        This is especially true for application of pest control and fertilizers. What is not used will only run off to water resources or contaminate soil.
      • prevent students in teaching labs from over-dispensing chemicals by pre-weighing chemicals needed for experimentation,
      • store stock chemicals in small nozzle bottles
      • prepare stock solutions prior to each experiment
      • substitute instrumental methods for wet chemistry whenever possible
      • substitute non-toxic or less toxic materials; consider less toxic substitutes for commonly used chemicals with satisfactory results.
      • EHS is happy to provide waste minimization consultation and green product evaluation.
      • detoxify or neutralize waste products within experimentationm
      • maintain accurate labels on all product and waste bottles to ensure that unknown chemicals are not generated
      • do not mix hazardous and non-hazardous waste (in/on any medium)  non-hazardous waste, when mixed with hazardous waste, will become hazardous itself. This only results in increased volumes of hazardous waste produced. For example, a solvent is used to clean residues of an oil spill, and the rag is then placed in a drum of oil and absorbent material. This drum, formerly non-regulated with a disposal cost of $45, is now hazardous waste and disposal will cost the university $211.56.
      •  high concentration waste should not be mixed with low concentration waste
      • avoid experiments that produce waste that is both radioactive and chemically hazardous or biologically and chemically hazardous.
      • Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) maintains a webpage aimed to provide information to identify the specific hazards of the products used and to reduce or eliminate exposure risks. When surplus chemicals are given to EHS, it is first determined whether the chemical is indeed a waste, or whether it can be reused or recycled. If it is a waste, the degree of hazard and the appropriate disposal route are determined. Throughout this process, the university is required to keep records that account for hazardous wastes throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Southern Illinois University - Carbondale

  • annual training sessions presented 1,000 employees who work with chemicals and biological agents; half of the presentation is devoted to waste issues.
  • regularly advise users to substitute less hazardous reagents for hazardous chemicals
  • purchase the smallest amount necessary
  • share chemicals when possible
  • reduce the volume and weight of chemicals and biological used to the smallest practical amount
  • consider treatment of products in compliance with the Resource Conservation Recovery Act to reduce waste
  • consult with many of our 700 laboratories to minimize waste streams.

St. Lawrence University

  • Chemistry and Biology classes with labs substitute reagents with less toxic alternatives at every opportunity
  • General Chemistry lab, ​Kool-aid has replaced toxic nickel and chromium salts​ previously used for instruction in determining concentrations.

University of California, Irvine

  • Utilize less hazardous chemicals
  • Use laboratory detergents rather than hazardous cleaning baths (e.g., substitute detergents for chromic acid solutions).
  • Use non-halogenated rather than halogenated solvents (e.g., substitute cyclohexane for carbon tetrachloride). 
  • Use less toxic/hazardous solvents rather than more toxic/hazardous solvents.

UC Santa Cruz

  • Substitute less hazardous chemicals or ingredients for ones you are using now. This database [linked on site] provides information on alternatives to hazardous chemicals or processes. This is an MIT-developed tool made possible by an EPA People, Planet, and Prosperity grant. 
  • Order only the chemicals needed for the short term. You will spend more to dispose of larger amounts of unused chemicals than you will save by purchasing large orders to get quantity discounts.
  • If you're dealing with common household chemicals, call the County Hotline for the latest updates on recommended and available substitutes.
  • Test your ideas on the smallest scale practical to minimize disposal costs.
  • Keep your wastes segregated by compatibility and type; avoid cross contamination as much as possible.

UC Merced

  • Unused chemical products are collected and transferred to teaching laboratories for use in teaching lab experimental processes in order to minimize waste generation due to excess inventory.
  • Certain chemical products are reacted in order to render them less hazardous, e.g., liquid bio-hazardous wastes are reacted with bleach to reduce toxicity and subsequently released to the sanitary sewer system for waste water treatment. Acids and bases are neutralized during the process of elementary neutralization allowed by the hazardous waste regulations to render them less toxic. In addition, certain waste streams are precipitated to produce a more concentrated waste stream and reduce the volume of waste generated.
  • Short-lived radioactive waste isotopes are held for managed decay on-site whenever possible; this includes managing the decay of short-lived radioactive isotopes for a minimum of 10 half-lives and confirmation that the isotopic waste is not greater than 2x the level of background radioactivity prior to disposal in the sanitary waste stream.
  • UC Merced has implemented an initiative to recycle organic and inorganic solvents to reduce the volume and the toxicity of generated waste solvents from the laboratories. UC Merced also has an online tool to help manage chemical inventories to prevent excess accumulation of chemical products that become chemical waste upon expiration. This inventory tracking tool allows for the tracking of lab inventory to minimize duplicate ordering and allow for product sharing among labs.