Along with the rest of the world, scientists are becoming aware of their addiction to plastic. The properties and low purchase cost of plastic have made it a very popular material. For reasons of contamination, laboratories have disposed of plastic waste for years. It was considered a crucial part of scientific research but now many agree that it’s time to change.
The use of glass in laboratories decreased as plastics were considered more durable and cost-effective. Habits of caring for equipment and wash stations were forgotten about and replaced with the rubbish bin. In 2015 three researchers at the University of Exeter started to monitor the waste from their bioscience department. In just one year they counted plastic waste of 267 tonnes generated by 280 scientists.
From learning about their own annual bioscience plastic waste, the researchers could then calculate the global impact. They calculated that globally the 20,543 biologically orientated research centres would be responsible for 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste. A figure this large could not be ignored and as scientists started to look for alternatives, they noticed the old glass storage cabinet.
Scientific Glass Benefits
The relationship between science and glass has been intertwined for centuries. The development of glass itself could easily be classed as scientific experimentation. The history of glass blowing was transformed in the 1820s industrial revolution. With the invention of the mechanical press, glass blowing became a simpler process. Decorative glass was produced and at the same time, different strengths of glass were developed and tested.
As the glass produced became stronger and more heat resistant, it became an important part of scientific experiments. At the turn of the 20th Century, scientific glassware production started in the UK. As a strong and transparent material, it is perfect for observing chemical changes. Due to its thermal shock resistance and chemical resistance, it can be cleaned at high temperatures for reuse or UV sterilised.
As a molten moulded material, glass can be manufactured into any shape or size. For specialist experiments, bespoke laboratory glassware can be developed. Scientific glass benefits mean it can be produced in small and large scales creating a range suitable for all different types of experiments.
Will Science Laboratories Stop Using Plastic?
The popularity of plastic grew with the science industries along with the rest of the world. As plastic production developed pipettes and Petri dishes became cheap. As the volume of work grew, it was quicker and easier to use plastic tools and throw them away instead of washing.
Manufacturers will inevitably improve plastic production to have less waste and laboratories will make more effort to reuse. Now it feels like there will be a development for both glass and plastic equipment in science. With Laboratories starting to make more effort to set up washing facilities so both glass and plastic equipment can be reused. The most important change will be in the attitude to laboratory equipment. Scientists need to stop the disposable culture and start to care for and reuse what they can.
Can Old Scientific Glass Be Used?
When scientists start to dust off the old glass equipment held in storage for years, they may question if it is safe to use. Most glass equipment will retain its strength over the years so should be fine to make the most of scientific glass benefits.