Thinking green. It’s a regular phrase nowadays. People know you’re not talking about money, ninja turtles or vegetables, they know you are referring to sustainable, environmentally friendly ideas. Thinking green is about bringing new ideas to the table to help our planet. Usually when we you say the words “think green”, people talk about topics that have been around for a while such as power plants, recycling at home and business pollution. For a change, let’s “think green” and put something new under the microscope. Let’s try to bring some novel ideas for people to make a difference on the environment. And speaking of microscopes, what about science?
Let’s start off with a simple hypothetical situation, as you commonly do in science. Let’s say I am a university student taking my first year undergraduate chemistry course. In my class there are a total of 750 students. My chemistry course runs for a full semester and during this course we do five chemistry labs. At the beginning of each lab I have to wear a pair of disposable gloves. Upon first glance, that pair of gloves seems harmless - but it has a huge impact. That one pair of gloves means that my course will produce 7,500 pairs of waste gloves a semester. That’s a lot of gloves.
How can we avoid this massive production of waste? The gloves cannot be eliminated, as they are required for student safety and performance. Theoretically, students could wear reusable gloves instead of disposable ones, but that would introduce waste from washing, or replacing them. This dichotomy between reducing waste and maintaining safety or performance is not just limited to gloves in science. This dependence on disposable products plagues all areas of science research and academics because there are not always clear, direct solutions. Greener alternatives that are biodegradable, environmentally friendly, cost effective and practical have not always been fully developed for these problems. While the hunt for these elusive solutions will continue, in the short term companies are developing indirect alternatives. Companies like Kimberly-Clark.
Established in 1872, Kimberly-Clark is a based in Dallas, Texas and provides health care and professional brands. You might be familiar with a few of their brands, like Kleenex, Huggies or Pull-Ups. Going back to our glove example, a solution that Kimberly-Clark offers is through reducing waste produced in their packaging. Kimberly-Clark currently offers a product called “Kimberly-Clark* Sterling Nitrile Exam Gloves” (Sterling Gloves). These gloves are created for the laboratory setting and have more efficient sustainable packaging in comparison to their “Kimberly-Clark* PFE 9.5” Latex Exam Gloves” (PFE Gloves). If we use the environmentally friendly Sterling gloves as a comparator to the PFE gloves in our problem above, we would reduce 215 pounds of waste a semester. Just by switching to more sustainable packaging on an item which is disposable, a huge beneficial change can be made on the environment.
This trend of offering sustainable and eco-friendly options is not just exclusive to Kimberly-Clark either. Other scientific supplies companies like Fisher Scientific and BD are also starting to make positive impacts on the environment by revamping their products. While these changes may not be huge, they can still make a difference as we have seen above. So the next time you are wondering on how you can help the environment, you do not necessarily need to worry about finding some creative new way to reuse your old pair of jeans (even though we still encourage you to do that). You can also try to look at more sustainable options in other areas of your life which appear to have no direct solutions. Chances are, someone out there has come up with some kind of creative eco-friendly answer to the problem. And chances are if you find it, you can help too.