grINIM is a volunteer-organized initiative that aims to make research at the Institute of Neuroimmunology (INIM) more sustainable.
As a sub-organization of the BMC Green, we implement relevant local changes that are applicable to the laboratories in our institute. Specifically, we focus on raising awareness and reducing consumption of energy, water, plastic materials as well as toxic reagents. To raise awareness, we introduce a sustainable action of the month (SAM) every month as a means to provide information and offer locally applicable solutions to reduce our consumption. For instance, closing the sashes of biological safety cabinets can reduce energy consumption significantly and prolong the lifetime of the ventilator (further details and other past SAMs are described in the following section). Precisely because research requires tremendous amounts of energy, water and other resources, it is our mission to find alternative solutions to reduce our environmental impact.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to join our team. We are also grateful for your feedback and suggestions in person. Send Email
May 2022 SAM: Reduce Freezer open-time
What is the problem?
- The longer we open the freezers, the more the freezers warm up, hence, more energy is needed to cool it down to the set temperature.
- Currently, our freezers are being opened for as much as 3 minutes. It takes up to 4 hours for the -80°C freezer to recover to -80°C.
- If the freezer is opened multiple times in a short time frame, the warming effect is accumulative.
How can you help?
- Keep your freezers organized.
- Reduce opening time of freezers’ doors.
- When searching for samples in a box, take the box out and close the freezer door. Use dry ice when necessary.
- If you need to search for a box, take the rack out and close the freezer door. Use dry ice when necessary.
February 2022 SAM: Collect polypropylene and polystyrol separately (Pilot Project)
The problem with plastic recycling
− not all plastics are the same; different resin types end up together in the same bin
− it is therefore most economical for waste disposal companies to burn plastic waste for energy recovery or to downcycle it to low quality mixed-resin products
− only a fraction of plastic waste enters closed-loop recycling (e.g. new PET products made from old PET bottles); meaning that most plastic used today comes from raw oil, not from recycling
What can we do about it?
− we already collect PET bottles separately which are channeled into closed-loop recycling
− we want to establish separate collection also for Polypropylene (PP) and Polystyrol (PS)
How will PP and PS collection work?
1. How to identify PP and PS
● rule of thumb
⮚ usually PP: falcon tubes, eppi tubes, cryotubes, pipette tips, pipette tip boxes
⮚ usually PS: well plates, petri dishes, serological pipettes, reagent reservoirs
● there will always be exceptions (e.g. falcons from PS also exist)
● to unequivocally identify the resin type look at the resin code (numbers 1 to 7, see above) which you find either on the product or the bag it comes in
2. Is my PP and PS clean enough for the collection?
● we can only collect PP and PS that has not been in contact with any dangerous biological material or hazardous chemicals
● this excludes for example S1 / S2 material, antibiotics or paraformaldehyde
● a more complete list of what can and can’t go into the collection can be found on the collection box
3. Where will PP and PS be collected?
● we will provide collection boxes for every lab room
● collection boxes will be emptied by grINIM into larger containers in the disposal room
December 2021 SAM: A freezer challenge
Ultra-low freezers (-80°C freezers) are energy-demanding devices that consume 28-35 kWh per day each (equivalent to three 3-person households in Germany). While their function in the laboratory setting cannot be replaced, there are some actions we could take to reduce its energy consumption and prolong its lifetime:
1. Reduce the freezer’s open-time. Keep the freezers organized so it takes less time to look for samples while keeping the freezer doors open.
2. Regularly defrost the freezers twice a year and remove ice buildup.
3. Regularly vacuum the condenser filter and coils to ensure efficient cooling.
Members of the grINIM will defrost a freezer a month on the first Monday of each month starting in February 2022. A sign will be posted on the freezer one month prior to defrosting to inform the users. At the same time, we will also vacuum the condenser filter and coils.
November 2021 SAM: Separate your waste correctly
Why waste separation?
1. To enable recycling, which is the best available option for any waste that cannot be prevented or further reduced.
2. Containment of hazardous agents
What happens to well separated waste?
a. recycling: organic waste, soil, paper, glass, styrofoam and aluminum, new paper, glass, styrofoam and aluminum, some plastics (details below), new plastics
b. energy recovery (i.e. waste is burned to produce energy): residual waste, autoclaved waste and animal bedding, some plastics (details below). To enable recycling, put everything in the correct bin. Recyclable materials in residual waste are lost for recycling. Recycling waste containing too much wrongly sorted waste will be forwarded to energy recovery, meaning that the complete bag is lost for recycling, Don’t carelessly use recyclable materials. Recycling is an energy intensive process, meaning that also recyclable waste should be prevented and reduced where possible.
The problem with plastic recycling: plastics is a collective term for many different resins such as polyethylene, polypropylene, etc., in theory, closed loop recycling (e.g. PET to PET recycling) is possible, but rarely economical. In Germany more than half of the plastic waste is therefore burned for energy recovery, the rest is downcycled into low quality mixed-resin plastics, We have established a sustainable closed loop recycling option for PET bottles. Please put them in the PET collection bins in the cell culture rooms.
How to separate waste correctly? don’t simply choose the bin that is nearest to you or trash everything as residual waste, instead, consider two things:1. Is the waste harmful? 2. What material is it made of?
• harmful waste:
• animal tissue is collected in the designated freezer drawers and forwarded to the animal crematory
• GMO and infectious waste is collected separately, autoclaved, then considered residual waste
• toxic chemicals are collected in designated containers, then forwarded to the chemical disposal facility
• sharps are collected in yellow hard-plastic bins, which go into residual waste (or S1 / S2 if applicable) once full and safely closed
• non-harmful waste:
• paper & cardboard
• small pieces 🡪 blue paper waste bins in the docu zones
• big pieces 🡪 big trolley in the disposal room
• 🡪 PET collection boxes in the cell culture rooms
• sytofoam boxes and pieces 🡪 bag/bin in the disposal room
• other clean plastics (mostly packaging, no used falcons or similar) 🡪 yellow plastic bins
• contaminated plastics & gloves 🡪 residual waste!
• very clean aluminum foil 🡪 put in the scullery aluminum bin for re-use
• other 🡪 aluminum bin in the disposal room
• separate bins for “normal” and “laboratory” glass in the disposal room
• small bin in the kitchen, not only for ground coffee
• everything that belongs in no other bin
• gloves are residual waste! (unless S1/S2)
October 2021 SAM: Turning up -20°C Freezers and turning off bacteria shakers
We have observed that our -20°C freezers are usually colder than its settings. For instance, a setting of -21°C resulted in an actual temperature of around -26°C on average (n=7). As cooling down the freezers colder than -20°C may not be favourable for all the samples and also causes the freezers to consume more energy, we would like to turn up all the -20°C freezer up to a setting that would result in an actual temperature of -20°C inside the freezer; typically around -18°C. The modification will be confirmed with a thermometer.
In addition, we also propose to turn off the bacteria shaker by default as it is not frequently in use. Each bacteria shaker consumes 5.28 kWh per day to maintain device at 37°C; however, it only takes 21 minutes to warm up the shaker to 37°C after switching it on, so we could avoid this unnecessary consumption by switching them off by default.
September 2021 SAM: Recycling PET bottles and cooling packs
Worldwide, around 300 million tons of plastic are produced per year, of which 5.5 million tons of plastics are produced by laboratories. While there are current efforts to recycle our enormous amount of plastic wastes, the recycled plastic granules are hardly used for the production of new laboratory plasticwares due to the low purity of the recycled material. In order to address this issue, Panbiotech, a local biotech company, is in collaboration with a local recycler to recycle PET plastic bottles separately. This way, the recycled PET granules can achieve high PET purity and be used again for production of PET bottles.
This month, we have started collecting the PET bottles and would like to ask you to join us by:
1. Rinsing your empty PET bottles with tap water and
2. Separating the lid to let the bottles dry in our collection boxes (located in the 2 cell culture rooms).
All PET bottles has the recycling triangle sign with 01 inside.
In addition, Pan biotech is also collected hard-shell cooling packs to be directly reused. Please also place the hard-shell cooling packs that you no longer need in our PET collection box for pick-up.
July 2021 SAM: Reduce your water footprint
Facts about water consumption: Water is a scarce resource: more than 2 billion people worldwide have insufficient access to clean water. Climate change is coming: the past 3 years have seen extreme droughts all over Germany. A lab like ours consumes 5x more water than an office workplace. Therefore, being aware and decreasing our water consumption will have a big impact on our water footprint.
We would like to propose 3 simple actions to help reduce our water footprint.
1. Use less purified water (where possible).
With purified water, 1L does not always equal 1L. In fact, 5L of tap water is used to produce 1L of ultrapure water (Milli-Q water) by reverse osmosis. 3L is necessary to produce 1L of deionized water. Only with tap water, what you see is what you get. Therefore, re-think which grade of purity is really necessary for your purpose. For example, many buffers may be good enough with deionized instead of ultrapure water. For rinsing and cleaning, use tap water, not deionized water.
2. Run the autoclave less often.
One autoclave run uses approximately 270 liters of water. In an autoclave, water is not only used to create hot steam, but also to cool this steam down after the autoclaving process to prevent heat damage to drain pipes. To save water, run the autoclave only when it is full. Also, re-think which materials really need to be autoclaved. For example, Eppis and pipette tips usually arrive PCR clean and can be used straight from the bag without further autoclaving for many experimental purposes.
3. Report dripping taps, eye showers, etc.
A dripping tap can easily cost you 2L of water per day. Therefore, report any dripping as soon as you notice it, so that the tap, eye shower etc. can be repaired as soon as possible.
May & June 2021 SAM: don´t idle
“To idle” for automobiles means to keep the engine running while the car is not moving. This is commonly done by drivers while they wait for their passengers. Similarly in the lab, we often keep our devices on “stand-by” while we are not actively using it (e.g. centrifuges, shakers, stirrers, cell counters, heaters… etc.). However, these devices do still consume energy because the display and set temperature are maintained.
We are aiming at reducing our energy consumption by switching off devices that are not actively in use.
These are some measures of devices in our lab: W (“Watt”) is the measure of the “rate of energy consumed” = 1 Joule per second. Wh (“Watthour”) is an unit of energy = 1W over 1 hour = 3600 Joules. Some devices consume as much energy as if they were in use, since the function is maintained when idling; for instance, the heater expends energy to keep the device at a set temperature whether the samples are in there or not. Please be aware of the time it takes for heaters to warm up to the set temperature and avoid keeping the heater on for long periods of time. For an average heater, it takes:
Approximately 5-10 minutes to reach 37°C.
Approximately 15-20 minutes to reach 95°C.
Simply close the centrifuge lids between uses to keep the device at the set temperature and avoid additional cooling. Don’t forget to stop the stirrer when the buffers are well mixed. If possible, please share the devices. This also applies to the computers and the room lights. Please remember to turn off all devices and lights at the end of the day. If the computer is not planned to be used for long periods of time, it is also possible to set it in “energy saving mode” or “hibernate”.
Each individual device may not consume a lot of energy alone, but it adds up over time and in mass.
April 2021SAM: use less ≠ useless
Labs produce incredible amounts of waste, of which a large percentage is non-hazardous. A study of the University of Exeter has estimated that a scientist produces over 1000 Kg of plastic waste per year. As a comparison, the plastic waste per person/year in Europe is 174 kg. Following a similar trend, labs also consume large amounts of energy, in which lab equipment constantly connected to the power supply account for 25% of it. By using our resources responsibly we can make a big impact on our waste reduction.
We would like to encourage you to decrease the amount of consumables and equipment usage.
1. Reduce energy and equipment usage.
Autoclaving: try to use clean but non-autoclaved materials whenever possible. Autoclaved labware has an alu-foil on top.
Fridges/freezers: reduce the time their doors are opened and keep them organized. It will decrease the time you need to look for something. Avoid leaving the door open while searching .
2. Re-use consumables whenever possible
Serological pipettes, gloves, Centrifugation tubes (we have reusable tubes for different purposes).
3. Share reagents and equipment.
Use our mailing lists to ask for samples or exchange materials: institute-wide: write to Anja Schmalz. BMC-wide: ask a postdoc to write to the postdoc network. Make inventory lists: Organize your supplies, check and share with members of other groups
March 2021SAM: Save energy
Facts about energy consumption at the BMC: The biomedical center with its 450 employees consumes on average 6.3 Mio kWh per year (Wh -“Watthour”- is an unit of energy = 1W over 1 hour = 3600 Joules). An average German 3-person household consumes on average 3500 kWh per year.This means that we (450 employees) consume as much energy as ~1800 households per year. Therefore, small individual changes can be amplified to make enormous impact on our energy consumption.
One biological safety cabinet or fume hood consumes as much energy as three households. If not in use, please: Switch off biological safety cabinets and close fume hood sash. In addition to saving energy and costs, this also prolongs the lifetime of the devices.
Also, please keep all the doors closed, specially those of rooms with special ventilation systems.-80°C freezer room, 4°C cold room. This will enable more efficient ventilation and cooling in these rooms and thus will save energy.