After scientists found plastic polluting the fossil record, and christened this ‘The Age of Plastic’, we spoke to one of our environmental champions, Neil Stammars for an update on initiatives to lower the amount of waste produced in the pursuit of knowledge.
“At TSL we have always recycled all the metal, plastic, cardboard, paper and foil that we can. Over the years a number of people have started schemes to improve what we can do, so people could take things away to re-use them, all on a minor scale, but every item that gets re-used is one less item in landfill.
What we’re doing now is expanding what we can recycle or reuse; chemical containers, flask bungs (aka stoppers), things like that which traditionally have just been thrown away. Because we’re expanding the range of stuff that can be recycled, we get a few emails saying; “I’d like to get involved, but can you really recycle that?”.
Scientists, by their nature question everything, so when stock runs low, or prices for small, mass-produced equipment go up, it’s natural to ask; “why are we not re-using this stuff?”. There’s no reason we can’t. I think in science there is a perception that because we deal in chemical or biological contaminants, something has to be brand-new to be uncontaminated, but of course that’s not true, we have excellent sterilisation techniques, so things that have previously been thrown away, can be reused.
The recent increase in ecological concern around plastic pollution, has heightened awareness, which is helpful because we are trying to change that mindset and asking people to pause before throwing something away. Ask yourself; “could this be re-used”, obviously not everything can be, but more often than not the answer is yes. People are really receptive to this approach and the uptake has been really encouraging.
Our Media Services team does all the washing and sterilising of equipment, so from a scientist’s point of view, nothing changes, we just return stuff to them clean, sterile and ready to go again.
Due to the nature of our work, there is a massive throughput of consumables being used, so if we can tap into even a small percentage of that, we can make a big difference to the volume of waste going to landfill. It may not be a huge percentage, but we use so much that even a small percentage equates to a big mass being saved. We would like to do as much as we can and maximise the areas we can, such as around the social activities and things that we do as an organisation outside the confines of a lab.
My own scientific career began at school, but as I progressed towards a PhD I started to question whether I wanted to continue down a path which required a lot of public speaking, something I didn’t enjoy. It was then that I began to look for other scientific careers and moved into scientific support, which provided me a natural progression. There is a perception that you need to know exactly what you want to do at a young age, but that wasn’t the case for me, I just followed paths that seemed right for me as I found them.
My role now is Media Services Co-ordinator. As a team we provide various services to TSL scientists from the sterilisation of equipment previously mentioned, through to growth media production, buffers and maintaining the stock cupboards. Generally, our role is to provide the scientists with whatever they need to do their science, without needing to worry about the minutia.”