Chemical waste from campus laboratories often finds new life in surprising ways—some of it right under our feet, according to Sherri Menard, manager of environmental health and safety.
Ongoing recycling efforts in the Chemical Control Centre include creative ways to re-use materials that had previously been discarded, as well as earth-friendly ways to dispose of those that cannot be recycled.
One of the more interesting ways discarded chemicals are re-used includes the use of halogenated waste, or solvents, which are recycled and used in cement mixing. This gives the material new life and prevents its disposal in landfills and incinerators.
Menard says environmental friendliness is the watchword in the CCC and chemical disposal vendors are chosen based on their processes and procedures. For example, the University avoids disposal vendors who use deep well injection methods which dispose of chemical waste in underground wells and is considered environmentally risky.
“All the vendors we use, for whatever chemical, are chosen specifically to insure most of the product, or as much as possible, can go to recycling or is being reused,” she says. “We try to avoid landfills as much as we can.”
The CCC team has a computer program that tracks available chemicals on campus and allows labs to order small amounts of just what they need, rather than large amounts that can be costly and wasteful. Often, these chemicals are sourced from other labs looking to dispose of excess.
“If you have chemicals in your lab that you don’t need anymore, you can bring them here and we’ll put them back in the system so they can be reused by another lab,” says hazardous materials technician Tina Lepine. “Because research methods change and people change their protocols, there are often excess chemicals somewhere that another lab could use.”
Lepine educates users about responsible use and disposal of chemicals and encourages them to implement such simple changes as mixing smaller amounts and changing processes to decrease cost, waste and impact to the environment.
CCC team leader Francis Arnaldo has worked at other institutions in the past and says the fact that UWindsor manages all of its chemical processes in one place enhances its ability to encourage earth-friendly protocols.
“We have the ability to promote processes and educate end users because we handle so many aspects of this—like ordering less material—so management is more streamlined,” Arnaldo says. “People don’t realize the impact they have down the line. When you reduce, reuse, and recycle, it starts with you.”
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles celebrating the University's environmental stewardship, leading up to Earth Day, April 22.