Leading a sustainable initiative: Marta Chiapasco on reducing waste in the lab

Marta Chiapasco is a Research Postgraduate in the Department of Materials. Her PhD research looks into plastic degradation and whether we can make more environmentally friendly plastics. 

In this blog post, Marta talks about starting a new initiative to recycle plastic gloves. By implementing this new scheme, it is estimated that the Departments of Materials and Bioengineering will save approximately 2 tonnes of single-use waste a year.

Hi, I’m Marta! I am a PhD student, and my research is about understanding how degradation progress in plastic packaging with different microstructures. I work with the startup Polymateria, accelerating the degradation of plastic once released into the environment. Plastic degradation and pollution have been my primary academic interests since the early stages of my education. Plastic pollution is a manufactured problem; therefore, it should be easier to solve in theory!

Recently I thought about introducing the scheme of single-use glove recycling at the Royal School of Mines because I always wanted to do something about the vast amount of waste generated in scientific labs – through plastic, energy and water overuse. I’d heard about glove recycling schemes at other universities and thought if they could do it, we could too!

Now making a positive change can take time, so for the first step, I convinced my lab to try to reduce our environmental footprint by getting certified by the LEAF program. The LEAF program helps research groups take small actions and change behaviours to reduce research’s environmental impact and save materials, energy, and money. By starting this initiative, we learned so much about energy usage and waste – for example, one fume hood consumes the same amount of energy annually as an apartment! In addition, our research group found impressive savings by lowering the hush and decreasing the airflow when not in use. I recommend anyone to join this programme!

After completing the LEAF program, I wanted to involve more people. I stumbled upon the Right Cycle scheme through the website of Terracycle, and I thought, ‘this is exactly what’s missing!’ in our facilities. Terracycle is one of my favourite companies: they recycle materials that municipalities usually do not recycle because they are too complex or expensive. Recently they collaborated with Kimberly and Clark, launching a program to mechanically recycle single-use gloves to reuse the materials to make toys, vases, benches and more. So, with the valuable help of staff members around the college, Cora O’Reilly, Nana Asamoah-Danso, Kenneth Keating, Paul Kirton from the SK stores, the sales team of Avantor, we managed to put the scheme in place within six months. This was an incredible feat, and I’m so grateful for everyone’s help in making this important initiative a reality in the Departments of Materials and Bioengineering.

Together we are stronger and can make a difference – we cannot keep pretending that someone above us will solve the problem. So I encourage everyone to get involved and support the Terracycle initiative – they also support recycling centrifuge tubes and rigid plastics if you’re interested in recycling these too!

I am so proud of what we have achieved and look forward to seeing what we can achieve as an institution when more people take a stand against plastic. Every choice matters. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Find out more about the Rightcycle scheme and learn more about Marta’s research.

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