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The 3 Green R's Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

By Jack Metterville, Vice President of Sales & Marketing
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Unwanted and unused vivarium equipment doesn’t have to sit idly taking up space. Stainless steel equipment and plastic caging can have a second life.

The 3 Green R'sIt remains topical and important to continue the dialogue concerning the initiatives of “going green.” We are reminded daily of the significant environmental and economic issues that face each of us. The conditions of the economy and environment challenge our ability to reach and maintain an enjoyable and healthy quality of life. We try to use less, reuse what we can, and recycle what we cannot. How we observe and react to economic and environmental challenges effects the manner in which we develop as individuals. It also impacts how we develop and implement our business strategies and the likelihood of success. Going green, zero carbon footprint, carbon neutral, carbon credits, greenhouse effect, global warming, sustainable energy, and green building are all terms that have become common and integral part of our lives.As such we are challenged to consider our buying decisions and conservation practices.

In some regards the current conditions of the economy force upon us the need to recycle. The world economic climate of the past few years has impacted our spending habitats dramatically. We have limited budgets and are forced to make our dollar go further. We recycle and reuse because it is the right thing to do while at the same time protecting the limited budgetary funds that are available to us. With this said, research must continue!

The animal research community is significantly concerned and invested in resource conservation. We are impacted by the struggles of the economy while continuing the effort to promote and support the initiatives of research for the purpose of developing novel human therapeutics. The efforts associated with the discovery and development of new drugs is among the most important endeavors we can pursue. These initiatives lead to remedies or cures of conditions and diseases that enhance or prolong our human experience. These efforts, however, are not undertaken without significant energies and investments in time and resources.

Waste Minimization Initiatives
Research institutions by necessity are large users of energy, construction materials, water, chemicals, and laboratory equipment and supplies. Government, university, hospital, and pharmaceutical research facilities are composed of millions of square feet worldwide. Hundreds of thousands of individuals spending hundreds of millions of dollars yearly comprise the workforce involved in animal research and drug discovery. The use of energies and products by these groups though important and critical is enormous. The good news is that even a slight decrease in the use of exhaustible resources by our members has a significant and positive impact on the overall resources not utilized.

Most organizations worldwide have implemented waste minimization programs. These programs are designed to conserve resources, create healthy and enjoyable work places, and save research dollars. The U.S. General Services Administration implemented the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act a decade ago. They mandated that federal members follow particular guidelines to ensure the appropriate purchase, disposal, and recycling of many different types of products. Search the Internet for major universities across the globe and you will be able to read how they have and are continuing to implement procedures to ensure resource and energy efficiencies. Pharmaceutical companies like Merck & Co., Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis to name just a few are fully invested to cut energy consumption, reduce waste, and promote recycling. These initiatives include how they buy and dispose of new and unwanted vivarium equipment.

Animal facilities are equipped with products such as cages and rack systems, animal transfer stations, waste disposal stations, metro rack storage systems, cage washers, autoclaves and sterilizers, bedding dispensers, water fill stations, load carts, and the list goes on. These are all products made from large quantities of stainless steel and plastic materials. Each of these animal facilities have support equipment that is extremely expensive to produce in terms of time and labor along with the costs of the raw materials required to produce the equipment. The processes used to manufacture these equipments also generate significant waste and by-products that must be handled safely and disposed of properly.

Stainless Steel
There is a predominant use of stainless steel in animal research for many reasons including durability, rust and stain avoidance, ease of cleaning, and protection from contaminants including bacteria. High quality stainless steel is resistant to breakdown caused by continuous use as well as sterilization by chemicals or autoclaving by high temperature steam. Proper storage and maintenance of stainless steel can basically avoid the induction of corrosion or pitting and extend its half life for a very, very long time. The process of stainless steel production requires large amounts of bulk products such as iron ore, silicon, chromium, nickel, and manganese. Through the use of large amounts of energy, water, and chemicals, the final product of high quality stainless steel is achieved. High quality stainless steel maintained under ideal conditions can be pit free for many hundreds of years. It does not leave much to the imagination what can happen to equipment made up of stainless steel that is not recycled appropriately. It sits and sits and piles up and piles up. Reusing of this important, expensive, and necessary material is an essential component of any responsible recycling initiative.

It should be noted that 100% of stainless steel can be recycled by melting and made into new stainless steel. Currently any new stainless steel product is made up of approximately 60%recycled stainless steel. The ability to make new products totally out of recycled stainless steel is limited only by the amount of recycled materials that are available. Therefore, no stainless steel product should ever end up in a landfill and just as important, no stainless steel product should go unused as it can be easily salvaged. Stainless steel salvaging and recycling is a large and efficient business worldwide.When you get stuck with unwanted products you can sell them, trade them, give them away but in the end you can always scrap it knowing it will be completely recycled. Scrap metal dealers are readily available to help you clear out your inventory and pay cash!

Plastic Caging
Plastic animal caging and various accessories are generally durable, scratch and break resistant, and tolerant of high temperatures (to avoid hazing and crazing)—all traits that support a long shelf life. Standard types of plastics such as polycarbonate, polystyrene, polysulfone, and various other high temperature cages are highly regarded and used because of their durability. New alternative single use or disposable plastic cage products are now available and promote their environmental and energy use friendliness. They are characteristically more readily biodegradable and eliminate the need for energy use such as water, heat, and chemicals. Individual institutions are left to establish their own opinions on the appropriateness and suitability of these disposable products for use in their facilities. The real challenge is to evaluate how we currently use our plastic products today, consider if we can do things differently, and always incorporate recycling into our work practices. Left to stockpile or disposed of improperly, plastics can become a significant toxic pollutant. Proper disposal and recycling of these items is not that hard! We just have to consciously decide to do so and make recycling a part of our standard operating procedures in the research laboratory as we often do in our own households. In most cases you would want it to be a natural instinct for our employees and our colleagues to recycle.

Though it is certainly possible, and the recycling of plastics is increasing, the challenges can be significant. Different types of plastics cannot be mixed during recycling. After grinding and during the melting process even small amounts of different types of plastics will ruin the end product. As in the stainless steel business there are many resources to assist you with the proper disposal and recycling of plastics. You may ask one of your vendors to assist you or you can find many resources on your own that will do a good and responsible job for you. However, unlike the stainless steel business, the value of plastics to be recycled is minimal. The value in recycling plastics is to understand that these unwanted products will not end up in the landfill but will be salvaged for another use.

New Equipment
There are many instances where the implementation of new products with newer and more efficient technologies such as ventilated animal rack systems, biological work stations, cage washers, or whatever makes us consider throwing out the old and bringing in the new. It is the throwing out part that should make us pause and think. For those that have the budgets and can afford the newer options, all the better. Hopefully, efficiencies are gained and resources conserved with the purchase of new and better products. But please remember the proverb, “One mans junk is another man treasure.” New and better doesn’t mean the old stuff is bad or unusable. Conversely because of the quality of the stainless steel and plastic of the previously used equipment, it is still usable in many instances. A challenge is created as to what to do with the “newly” unwanted cages and accessories. The answer today is to make the effort to find a means to recycle and reuse!

We have discussed the practicality of recycling unwanted stainless steel and plastic items. An alternative is to seek out reputable vendors who buy and sell animal equipment on the secondary market. It may be the case where these companies will pay more than the scrap value of the equipment you no longer need. Such companies could have the resources to restore damaged products and the contacts or distribution means to ensure that the cages and accessories receive a second life.When you are buying restored and reconditioned equipment by an experienced vendor you are receiving a quality product at a significant cost savings. Such a resource can be invaluable to those that did receive the “new budget” or just want to make sure their dollars go far.

The space along with the resources required to store and maintain unwanted cages and accessories can be huge. Every research facility should assign a cost required to inventory, maintain, and store equipment. When this is done or when you associate a dollar amount it starts to become obvious that the storage of no longer needed or wanted equipment is very expensive and unnecessary. Why tie up equipment and space for products you no longer have a need for or the space to store it in? You think you’re going to use it? Look at your own cellar or garage, what do you think now? Do something useful with it! Sell it, exchange it, donate it and at the very least scrap it but do something. Any and all of these options will result in recycling and perhaps extend the product life and hopefully benefit an organization or someone that did not get their “new budget” approved. Broken stainless steel can be rebent, cut, welded. Casters can be replaced. Motors can be exchanged. Filters can be replaced. Electrical components can be upgraded. What was broken can be fixed or reconditioned. Plastic can be ground, melted and reused to make new cages.

In today’s climate of economic and environmental concerns the need for conservation of resources dedicated to research is as critical as ever. All of us providing support need to continuously evaluate our responsibility to promote practical solutions to economize our budgets while maintaining the integrity of our surroundings. Recycling conserves exhaustible resources, promotes social well-being and “it just feels good to do the right thing.” Environmental responsibility and economical practicality are mutually beneficial and save time, money and resources. The practicality feature of recycling reduces energy and water use, cuts labor and material costs, increases efficiencies and productivity and can promote meaningful research.


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