LabCycle, a company co-founded by a University of Bath graduate, has launched the UK’s first pilot plant capable of recycling up to 60% of plastic lab waste. This innovative technology offers a glimmer of hope for reducing the enormous environmental footprint of the scientific community, with potential applications extending to healthcare, research, and commercial labs across the country.
Addressing the Plastic Problem
Lab-based scientists are heavily reliant on single-use plastics in their daily research, from pipette tips to petri dishes. Unfortunately, less than 1% of this plastic waste is currently recycled, with most of it ending up in incinerators or landfills. LabCycle aims to change this disheartening statistic by recycling up to 60% of lab plastic waste and transforming it into high-grade plastic pellets, which can be used to manufacture new lab equipment.
LabCycle’s recycling process stands out for its efficiency and environmental benefits. Unlike many recycling methods, it doesn’t require waste to be autoclaved (sterilized) beforehand, significantly reducing energy consumption. Additionally, it minimizes water usage, further decreasing its environmental impact.
Scientific Collaboration for Sustainable Solutions
LabCycle’s journey to revolutionize lab waste began with a collaboration with the University of Bath’s Innovation Centre for Applied Sustainable Technologies (iCAST). Together, they tested the properties of recycled polystyrene, polypropylene, and polyethylene terephthalate, confirming their suitability for creating new lab consumables.
Dr. Helen Liang, a University of Bath graduate with a Ph.D. in Sustainable & Circular Technologies, co-founded LabCycle after attending a SETsquared workshop in 2019. The company has since secured approximately £430k in funding to develop the technology and kickstart the commercialization process.
A Bright Future
After successfully piloting their recycling project at the University of Bath in 2022, LabCycle is now working towards offering this service to labs across the nation. Their pilot recycling plant, situated in a converted greenhouse on campus, marks a significant step towards a circular economy for plastic consumables in the research and healthcare sectors.
LabCycle is also collaborating with the local NHS Blood and Transplant to recycle waste from their laboratories. This promising initiative demonstrates the potential for real change in lab waste management, making the scientific community a more environmentally responsible player in the battle against plastic pollution.
In the words of Dr. Helen Liang, “We’re very excited to open our new pilot facility and realize our vision of creating a circular economy for plastic consumables in the research and healthcare sectors.”