Best Practices at EPA's Laboratories
In This Section
The following waste diversion best practices are employed at EPA’s program and regional laboratories across the country:
- Paper Use Reduction
- Other Source Reduction Activities
- Expanding Recycling Options
- Education and Outreach
Collecting and composting food waste and other organic materials can significantly reduce the volume of waste a facility sends for disposal. Several EPA laboratories have used traditional composting and vermicomposting (worm composting) to great success.
EPA’s New Main Laboratory in Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina, collects all food waste—including meat and dairy products, coffee grounds, and grease—as part of a comprehensive composting program and explains the program through an educational exhibit displayed near the exit of the cafe where the waste is collected.
The Large Lakes and Rivers Forecasting Research Station in Grosse Ile, Michigan, composts yard waste on site.
The Science and Technology Center in Kansas City, Kansas, implemented a vermicomposting program and uses the vermicompost worms to feed the fish that it uses in some of its experiments.
EPA’s Region 10 Laboratory in Manchester, Washington, composts food waste through a vermicomposting competition among employees, who compete to see which group generates the most organic waste from worms. Participants use the "worm tea" and castings in their personal gardens, as well as on native plantings located on the facility.
Reducing paper use is an Agencywide goal, and EPA laboratories keep this goal in mind in everyday operations. For example:
EPA’s Center Hill Facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, changed the default setting of all photocopiers and printers in the mailing, printing, and copying centers to double–sided copying. All new deskside printers have duplexing capabilities and are defaulted to duplex printing.
When employees at the National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory (NAREL) in Las Vegas, Nevada, go on business travel, they can sign out a TomTom navigation system to eliminate paper waste from printing maps.
Passing on unwanted items to others that can use them or finding a new use for such items is a great way to delay that item's entry in the waste collection and disposal system. Many EPA laboratories reuse glassware, lab equipment, and unused chemicals by donating to local universities or high schools.
Laboratory equipment and chemicals
The New Main Laboratory in RTP, North Carolina, implemented a chemical and laboratory supply adoption program for Office of Research and Development (ORD) laboratories at the RTP campus. Excess glassware, laboratory supplies, chemicals, and other materials are entered into a database that can be accessed only by EPA employees during the first two weeks they are in the database. After two weeks, the materials are made available to schools and nonprofit organizations.
The Environmental Science Center in Fort Meade, Maryland, donates excess laboratory equipment and chemicals to local universities for reuse.
The Region 9 Laboratory in Richmond, California, participates in a chemical adoption program with local universities. A list of surplus chemicals is generated every two years and given to the local universities. If the chemicals are not claimed, they are disposed of as chemical waste. The Region 9 Laboratory also triple rinses empty chemical stock bottles for reuse in a methylene chloride solvent recycling program. Each bottle that is reused has a label on it indicating how many times it has been reused.
- Science books
The Western Ecology Division Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon, collects used science books to donate to Oregon State University for students to reuse.
- Office equipment and materials
The Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center in Ada, Oklahoma, donates used furniture to local charitable organizations including the Salvation Army and the Chickasaw Reuse Center.
The Andrew W. Breidenbach Environmental Research Center (AWBERC) in Cincinnati, Ohio, donates excess office equipment and office supplies to local schools, which are notified of the equipment and supplies available and are encouraged to visit EPA’s warehouse to obtain the surplus materials they need. AWBERC also participates in “Green Moves,” a program aimed at reducing the amount of material discarded when an employee moves offices or leaves EPA by supplying the employee(s) with recycling bins, an office supply reuse bin, and trash receptacles.
The Region 2 Laboratory in Edison, New Jersey, displays pages from office supply catalogs to show employees the savings realized by reusing binders, file folders, and other office supplies.
The New Main Laboratory in RTP, North Carolina, reuses a number of items such as corrugated cardboard, CDs, plastic bottles, bicycle wheels, aluminum pans, ribbon, rope, paint, and polystyrene packing materials in children’s art projects and science experiments at the campus childcare facility, the First Environments Early Learning Center.
The Science and Technology Center in Kansas City, Kansas, established an office supply reuse program. Employees place unwanted items in the “Green Room” box in the copy/printer room, where they are available for all employees to reuse.
The National Exposure Research Laboratory in Athens, Georgia, collects general office supplies, binders, clipboards, file folders, paper, labels, and laboratory equipment for redistribution through the Athens–Clarke County Teacher Reuse Store, where public school teachers can access materials for use in the classroom at no cost.
- Construction and demolition materials
The Region 2 Laboratory salvaged and sold antique bricks during the demolition of a building instead of sending them to a landfill.
The Gulf Ecology Division (GED) Laboratory in Gulf Breeze, Florida, used concrete salvaged from hurricane–damaged buildings to prevent shoreline erosion.
The Atlantic Ecology Division Laboratory in Narragansett, Rhode Island, used boulders salvaged from a local construction project for its security barriers around the perimeter of the laboratory, rather than purchasing new materials for this purpose.
- Other materials
The Region 9 Laboratory in Richmond, California, designates a table in the kitchen for employees to place unwanted items for reuse and a magazine/book exchange in the reception area.
The Pacific Coastal Ecology Branch Laboratory in Newport, Oregon, collects excess rainwater from roof drains in large cisterns for reuse in boat washing or landscape irrigation.
The Environmental Services Branch Laboratory in Houston, Texas, collects shoes to donate to a local drug rehabilitation shelter.
Source reduction is the practice of preventing materials from entering the waste stream through reuse, donation, or elimination. In other words, preventing waste from even being created.
The Pacific Coastal Ecology Branch Laboratory in Newport, Oregon, uses “green tip” fluorescent light bulbs that contain less mercury than standard fluorescent bulbs, reducing the amount of hazardous waste that the laboratory must dispose.
The Atlantic Ecology Division Laboratory in Narragansett, Rhode Island, incorporated sustainably harvested construction materials and cork flooring—a low volatile organic compound (VOC) material—into the newly renovated director’s office and painted the office walls with low VOC paints.
The Mid–Continent Ecology Division Laboratory in Duluth, Minnesota, contacted more than 850 companies, requesting the facility be taken off mailing lists, resulting in the laboratory’s mail volume being cut in half.
The Region 10 Laboratory in Manchester, Washington, collects trash in small flowerpots instead of regular–sized trash cans. This strategy saved 6,300 plastic trash can liners from going to the landfill in 2006.
Visitors to NAREL in Montgomery, Alabama, receive a reusable visitor pass with a personalized sticker. These passes are also programmable to grant/limit access in the facility.
Office name plates in NAREL are printed internally on paper to reduce the amount of plastic use; the paper name plate can be recycled when an employee leaves the laboratory.
Expanding Recycling Options
By going beyond the core/common materials (i.e., office paper, aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles), EPA laboratories have been able to significantly increase the amounts of waste they divert from the landfill each year. Some unique materials recycled by the laboratories include:
- Vehicle Absorbents and Fluids
The National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory (NVFEL) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, collects and recycles approximately 25 drums per year of used absorbents and fluids.
- Parts Cleaners
NVFEL recycles solvents using closed–loop parts cleaning systems, saving more than 50 gallons a year.
- Toilet paper tubes
The Region 10 Laboratory in Manchester, Washington, places “EPA Recycles!” bins in the restrooms to collect empty toilet paper tubes for recycling.
- Aluminum pull tabs
The Center Hill Facility and AWBERC in Cincinnati, Ohio, have implemented aluminum can pull–tab recycling programs, with proceeds going to benefit a charity.
Effectively promoting a recycling program and other waste diversion activities and policies to employees and providing understandable instructions are crucial to program success. EPA laboratories have implemented a number of innovative communication and training programs, tools, and activities to get the word out to their staffs.
The National Exposure Research Laboratory in Athens, Georgia, developed an EPA intranet site with instructions and information about the laboratory’s recycling program and information on how employees can recycle items from their homes, such as batteries.
The Region 10 Laboratory in Manchester, Washington, honors Pollution Prevention Week with a silent auction. The auction is stocked with employee donations of items that would otherwise be landfilled. Employees can use “Manchester Bucks”—play money awarded to employees for volunteering to make a recycling run, identifying a new material to recycle, or using water efficiently—or cash to bid on the items. All the money raised goes into a recycling fund.
The Region 2 Laboratory in Edison, New Jersey, educates employees with an interactive display distinguishing between recyclable items and trash, graphically enhanced recycling guidelines posters, and facility-wide announcements about recycling procedures.
The Large Lakes and Rivers Forecasting Research Station in Grosse Ile, Michigan, sends recycling email reminders to employees to encourage them to recycle.
The New England Regional Laboratory in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, held a facility–wide contest for America Recycles Day wherein employees were challenged to come up with the most unique recycled item and prizes were awarded to contest winners. The laboratory has a Green Committee that meets quarterly to brainstorm environmental suggestions and present them to management. Suggestions have included duplex copying and printing, reducing the number of printers in the laboratory, and purchasing reusable coffee mugs.
The Environmental Science Center (ESC) in Fort Meade, Maryland, created a logo and mascot for its Environmental Management System (EMS) displayed in a glass case in the lobby along with the facility's various awards and achievements.
ESC also holds an annual EMS "refresher course" for all employees and contractors and identifies EMS Team members by affixing the EMS logo on their name plates.
The Science and Ecosystem Support Division Laboratory in Athens, Georgia, developed an informational brochure for visitors explaining the facility’s recycling program and the laboratory’s hazardous waste disposal procedures, compliance with executive orders, and technological improvements within the laboratory.
GED in Gulf Breeze, Florida, educates employees with "Greening GED" signage posted throughout the facility to remind them to conserve energy and natural resources.
The Environmental Services Branch Laboratory in Houston, Texas, encourages all employees to voluntarily participate on an EMS team, and the EMS Waste Management team uses visuals to discuss recycling and waste reduction efforts periodically at weekly "All Hands" meetings. The laboratory also funds office parties and events using money collected from recycling aluminum cans.