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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:


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.

Photo of bucket used to collect food scraps for laboratory fish.

This five-gallon bucket is used to collect food scraps for worms to vermicompost at the Science and Technology Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

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.

Paper Use Reduction

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.

Other Source Reduction Activities

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.

Photo of low VOC cork flooring used in the director's office.

Low VOC cork flooring used in the newly renovated director's office at the Narragansett laboratory.

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.

A reusable visitor pass.

Reusable visitors passes at NAREL
reduce paper waste.

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:

Education and Outreach

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.

Image of Fort Meade mascot and logo

This mascot and logo promote recycling at ESC in Fort Meade, Maryland.

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.

“Greening GED” signs encourage pollution prevention throughout the facility.

"Greening GED" signs encourage pollution prevention throughout this EPA facility, in Gulf Breeze, Florida.

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.


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