CÚRAM launches initiative to cut plastic waste in laboratories

Galway centre is first in Europe to be awarded Green Lab certification

CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices based at NUI Galway, has launched a new short video documentary The Time to Green Our Labs is Now as part of the Galway Green Labs initiative, which recently led to the CÚRAM lab being the first in Europe to be awarded Green Lab certification.

The documentary tells the story of Galway Green Labs, which was spearheaded by Dr Una Fitzgerald, a CÚRAM funded investigator and director of the Galway Neuroscience Centre at NUI Galway. Together with her ‘green team’ of CÚRAM researchers and staff, and with the support of the university registrar and deputy president, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh, and the Community University Sustainability Partnership, she is working to transform practice across campus to address issues such as plastic waste, energy reduction, recycling, and water usage.

“What has emerged is that people who work in labs are using 15 to 16 times more plastic than the average person in Ireland,” Dr Fitzgerald said. “This practice is done more so out of convenience than out of necessity, so we’re trying to change mindsets to heighten our awareness of the cumulative negative impact on the environment of this way of working. All we are asking lab scientists to do is question what they’re doing — to ask themselves, ‘Is there something I can do to lessen the environmental impact of my work in the lab?’ And to talk to others, and spread the message of the urgent need for change.”

University registrar and deputy president, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh, is supporting the initiative. He said: “For many years NUI Galway has been improving its performance in terms of energy efficient buildings, waste management, water use, and more. Recently we’ve brought together a Community and University Sustainability Programme that is looking at practices and spreading what we do out into the entire community and, crucially, bringing it into educational practices under the model Learn - Live - Lead. The Galway Green Labs initiative is a major part of this work.”

Certification was awarded this November by My Green Lab, a non-profit organisation that aims to fundamentally and permanently improve the sustainability of scientific research by unifying and leading scientists, vendors, designers, energy providers, and others in a common drive toward a world in which all research reflects the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility. Run for scientists, by scientists, it leverages its credibility and track record to develop standards, oversee their implementation, and inspire the many behavioural changes that are needed throughout the scientific community. Though My Green Lab focuses solely on laboratory environments, it believes its activities will excite similar changes across other industries, and in the private lives of the millions of people who spend their time in labs.

Allison Paradise, CEO of My Green Lab, commented: “Labs comprise an industry that is three times larger than the construction industry and half the size of the automotive industry. Labs, for all their good intentions, are estimated to discard over more than 5.5 million metric tonnes of plastic each year, which is enough to cover an area 23 times the size of Galway ankle-deep. They also consume five to 10 times more energy and water than office spaces. If every lab in Ireland were to turn off just one piece of equipment overnight for a year, it would be the equivalent to offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions associated with driving 2.8 million kilometres.”

Sinéad Ní Mhainnín, resource efficiency officer, Connacht Ulster Regional Waste Management Office, who appears in the film and is supporting Galway Green Labs, said : “By 2020 we aim to achieve a 50 per cent recycling rate for municipal dry recycling. Working with Dr Fitzgerald and the Galway Green Labs team is going to go a long way to help us in achieving this goal.”

The documentary is funded by CÚRAM, SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices at NUI Galway, Connacht Ulster Regional Waste Management Office, and St Anthony’s and Claddagh Credit Union, Galway.

For more information about Galway Green Labs, contact Dr Una Fitzgerald, NUI Galway, at [email protected]. To view the documentary find Wild Island Pictures on Vimeo, or follow #GalwayGreenLabs and @GalwayGreenLabs on Twitter.

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