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Scientist forms company focused on recycling used lab equipment

by | Nov 22, 2023

Dr. Helen Liang, a University of Bath graduate, recently founded a first-of-its kind company called LabCycle, whose predominant focus is to develop recycling technology for used lab equipment. The new facility which is now open and ready to recycle plastic waste from research labs, will help to significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste produced from labs and will therefore be a huge benefit to the environment and to scientists working in the lab.

The issue of the amount of plastic waste produced by research labs, was brought to the laboratory team’s attention when Dr Helen Liang researched her PhD. A study was swiftly carried out which revealed that an estimated 5.5 million tons of plastic waste is produced from labs every year. This waste generally consists of tiny plastic tubes, pipette tips and various other pieces of plastic lab waste. So far, these items have been thrown away because they have been in contact with hazardous chemicals and throwing the contaminated plastic away was widely regarded as the safest and best cause of action. However, as this discarded plastic is taken away and incinerated, scientists are now becoming aware that this solution is not sustainable and an alternative solution is needed, in order to prevent further damage to the atmosphere and reduce plastic waste.

This was the catalyst which started Dr Liang’s journey to founding LabCycle and creating a recycling process for the used lab equipment so that it can safely be reused. The first step was taken with the University providing her with a small greenhouse, in which Liang assembled machinery which was able to wash the used plastic efficiently and effectively, then proceed to shred it and finally decontaminate it. This process resulted in a small piece of plastic, measuring around the same size of a grain of rice. Once this process is complete, the tiny pieces of plastic are sent off to a manufacturing company who are able to reform the small bits of plastic into usable plastic lab equipment. This end result shows that Liang’s new method has enabled her to create a piece of lab equipment, such as a petri dish, which is manufactured out of 100% recycled plastic.

Due to the creation of Dr Liang’s company LabCycle, which was set up to focus on the development of the necessary machinery, has now been able to scale-up so that more lab equipment is being recycled and reformed, effectively reducing plastic waste from labs and simultaneously benefitting the environment. The next steps for this project will involve LabCycle searching for partners to work with in order to accomplish their goal of manufacturing lab equipment on a large scale.

Dr Liang commented, “It’s incredible, because I’ve been using this every day in the lab doing my PhD. And now we have made a new piece of lab equipment which is 100% recycled, it’s really exciting.”

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