It’s difficult enough to confront and deal with the amount of waste we each produce in our households, but imagine working in an industry where an estimated 5.5 million tonnes of plastic is incinerated annually due to strict regulations on the disposal of biological waste.
Working in a PC2 laboratory means just that for NCARD researchers; therefore a group of postdocs, research assistants and postgraduate students have formed The Planet Conscious Researchers Taskforce (a little play on words for PCR, a laboratory technique used to amplify DNA with which most of us have become familiar due to COVID testing). The PCR Taskforce is slowly building a culture that questions what can be done within the constraints of biomedical research to reduce the environmental impact. They have liaised with several groups, including the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Theatre Department Green Team, and have used Twitter to learn about and share green initiatives with other researchers around the world.
As well as setting up recycling stations for general items such as batteries, coffee pods and plastic lids, a big win for the group has been developing a protocol for disinfecting and sterilising media bottles (used to grow different types of cells, such as cancer cells for experiments). NCARD researchers can easily throw away 1-2 bottles a week each, generating a significant amount of waste. These media bottles can now be placed in yellow recycling bins, instead of being incinerated in biohazard bins. As of this month, the group have recycled nearly 800 bottles with this initiative.
Soft plastic recycling has been introduced; a “Switch Off” campaign for electrical items including unused lab equipment, computers, monitors and lights; and about 60kg of batteries have been recycled. More recently, the PCR Taskforce have collaborated with BioBarcode, collecting some of the plastics used here to repurpose or reuse, rather than buy new or recycle.
The PCR Taskforce have been acknowledged for their initiatives with a University of Western Australia Green Impact Bronze Award in 2020 and a Silver Award in 2021. They have also been nominated for a Waste Team Award from the state government Waste Authority WA.
Masked Waste Avengers. Back row, from left: Kofi Stevens, Georgia Hosking, Sarah Dart, Kim Patrick, Tina Firth, Jamie Linthorne, Peter Chiang. Front row: Tracy Seymour Hoang, Jess Boulter, Amber Phung, Nicola Principe.