Landfill Diversion From Labs: Where We Are Now and Creative Programs to Inspire You

Star Scott, University of Georgia
Christine Alencar, University of Virginia
Ilyssa O. Gordon, Cleveland Clinic
Kelly O'Day Weisinger, Emory
Whitney Hess, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The I2SL Landfill Diversion Working Group was founded in 2016 to address barriers and share best practices related to laboratory waste diversion. This session continues the conversation begun in the previous three years at I2SL with an update on Working Group progress toward (1) challenges and oppotunities related to upstream development of materials that reduce landfill waste, and (2) reduced output and proper waste diversion by lab users. This brief update will be followed by panelist presentations and discussion by Working Group member institutions seeking innovative solutions for lab waste challenges.

In 2016, students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology asked: "Why aren't we recycling gloves?" A seemingly simple question led to a team of researchers looking into this complex and intricate topic. Office of Sustainability funding supported a 'cradle to grave analysis' of the recycling of lab gloves, and researchers in the Civil Engineering and Materials Research Laboratories teamed up with undergraduate volunteers to analyze the footprint of glove recycling. Along the way, they learned of the processes involved in turning gloves back into a usable feedstock and the energy costs associated with doing so.

The University of Georgia (UGA) Green Lab program strives to divert lab waste from landfills and simultaneously supports the education of future scientists by collaborating with the Athens Clarke County (ACC) Teacher Reuse Store located at the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM). This program re-homes lab glass and other unwanted lab materials and offers it to local ACC teachers, diverting these items from the landfill and placing them in the hands of science teachers who may not otherwise have the budget to afford them. UGA will also discuss a 2018 lab-specific waste audit and its animal bedding composting program, in place since 2016.

The University of Virginia's (UVA) Office for Sustainability and the Green Labs Program are committed to lowering greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental impact of research performed on the UVA campus. Recycling in UVA labs is made possible by UVA's Recycling Team, encouraging all research labs to clean and separate commodities such as plastics, metal, glass, and paper. Laboratories also create unique waste streams like expanded polystyrene, nitrile, disposable medical gowns, and animal waste, and UVA has worked to address all of these waste streams, creating a task force to explore solutions for expanded polystyrene, implementing composting and specialized recycling in one of seven animal care facilities, and supporting upcycling of office supplies and surplus medical supplies. Some research institutions produce waste in the form of animal bedding, which is fully compostable product.

UGA, UVA, and Emory University all separately launched animal bedding compost programs, and are currently jointly creating a case study to provide insight into the strategies of three different institutions with similar landfill diversion programs. The intent of the joint case study is to provide helpful information to institutions looking to implement its own program, and the group will present a summary of the case study during this session. Institutions with or without animals will hear best practices for including multiple stakeholders in a process for diverting unusual waste streams from landfills (and sink drains!).

Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the environmental, social, and economic impacts of solid waste materials that come from research, healthcare, and teaching laboratories and why waste minimization and diversion from landfills is important;
  • Identify challenges and opportunities related to the diversion of solid waste materials from laboratories in diverse settings;
  • Hear about leading examples of lab user innovations to address these challenges;
  • Gain tangible ideas for building connections among key stakeholders, and setting and achieving goals for closing the loop on the production and disposal of laboratory materials and supplies.


Prior to starting the Green Labs program at the University of Georgia in 2016, Star Scott spent nearly a decade as a Research Professional in conservation-driven research, as well as several years as a Chemical Safety Specialist with the Office of Research Safety. Star's background is in wildlife biology and ecology and she is the CSHEMA representative for The Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium (HEASC) and the co-vice president for the Georgia Chapter of I2SL.

Christine Alencar is the Green Labs Outreach and Engagement Specialist at the University of Virginia. With eight years of research experience in molecular biology and chemical analysis, she communicates the benefits of sustainable lab operations to the campus research community, helping labs lower their carbon footprint, increase user safety, and improve protocol efficiency.

Ilyssa O. Gordon is a gastrointestinal pathologist at the Cleveland Clinic. As founder of the Cleveland Clinic Greening the Labs Committee, Dr. Gordon facilitates and implements programs related to lab recycling, biohazardous waste reduction, and energy conservation. She has developed an online course for education on lab recycling and has mentored pathology residents on Greening the Labs projects. She is the Cleveland Clinic Liaison to the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council and is on the Advisory Committee of the Health Care Without Harm Physician Network.

Kelly O'Day Weisinger joined Emory in 2012, and as Assistant Director of Sustainability Initiatives she collaborates with Emory University and Healthcare leadership in fulfilling Emory's enterprise-wide sustainability vision. Kelly conducts staff outreach and engagement and works with university and healthcare departments on projects including waste minimization, energy and water use reduction, sustainable procurement, climate action, lab and office sustainability, and curriculum and research. She is the co-chair of the I2SL Landfill Diversion Working Group, and co-President of the I2SL Georgia Chapter.

Whitney Hess is the Manager of Safety Systems and Programs for MIT.nano, MIT's new state-of-the-art nanoscience and nanotechnology research facility. She holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry from MIT, and leverages this technical background to facilitate the safe conduct of research in MIT.nano laboratories. Prior to her current role, Whitney served as EHS Coordinator of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories, where she implemented a glove recycling program in the shared cleanroom facilities as part of the MIT Glove Recycling Pilot. She also participates in sustainability research efforts on-campus, including the disposable glove life cycle analysis and laboratory waste audit projects.


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