Much of the waste produced in laboratories is recyclable.
If It Works, Someone Else Can Use It
You can donate functional laboratory supplies and equipment via the Laboratory Equipment Access Program (LEAP). This program founded by Caltech students and postdoctoral scholars is making a meaningful difference to rural California K–12 schools and community colleges that lack resources for hands-on education. LEAP welcomes all laboratory supplies and is prioritizing common lab equipment, glassware, plastic consumables, and these items. Caltech community members also rehome items on the Caltech marketplace listserve (campus network or VPN required).
What Can Be Recycled in the Lab?
Clean, residue-free glass, plastic, metal, paper, and cardboard all can be put into recycling bins. Here are a few examples of these materials:
- conical tubes
- pipette tip boxes and wafers
- metal canisters
- glass and plastic bottles (remove lids and deface labels)
- packaging materials (no polystyrene/Styrofoam)
- cardboard boxes
What Cannot Be Recycled in the Lab?
Biohazardous, radioactive, chemical, and electronic waste must be disposed of according to Environmental Health and Safety office guidelines. Find tips for getting these kinds of waste picked up here.
Other common items that cannot be recycled:
- compostables (like paper towels, food, and liquid)
- polystyrene / Styrofoam
- ice packs
- autoclavable glass (e.g., Pyrex)
- miscellaneous materials like pipette tips and coated bottles
Here is a PDF of laboratory recycling dos and don'ts.
When ordering supplies for your laboratory, please consider the potential for plastic pollution; many plastics labeled with recycling symbols and numbers are not effectively or practically recyclable.
An Exploration of Net-Zero Lab Waste at Caltech
While they were Caltech students, Kaleigh Durst (MS '20) and Vidhya Dev (BS '21) studied methods for achieving net-zero lab waste at Caltech as their final project for a special interdisciplinary course in environmental science and engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science. They presented their findings on this research poster.