Spring Is in the Air – Celebrate Earth Day

We have had a long, cold, snowy winter in Minnesota this year, so we are all eager for warm spring weather. As our thoughts turn to green grass, sunshine, and leaves on the trees, so do our thoughts turn to Earth Day, celebrated April 22. The theme for Earth Day 2018 is "End Plastic Pollution." According to Professor Andrew Holmes in his post, "Plastic and How it Affects Our Oceans," states, "No one in their daily life within a period of 10 minutes isn't touching something that is made of plastic," and this interesting article goes on to provide information on the global issue of plastics in the environment. 

What Is Earth Day?

Did you know that the first Earth Day celebration was April 22, 1970, almost 50 years ago, and it led to the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? Prior to 1970 there were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment. According to the EPA History: Earth Day website, in the spring of 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson (WI) created Earth Day as a way to force this issue onto the national agenda. Twenty million Americans demonstrated support for the environment in different U.S. cities, and it worked. In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

What Can You Do?

Laboratories can make a difference in a variety of ways: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

  • Does your laboratory recycle paper, plastic, glass, or batteries? If you aren’t sure, reach out to your facilities support group to find out how to set this up. Clean, uncontaminated items can be placed into a recycling stream or reused.
  • Ensure that everything in your lab is properly disposed of. This will ensure cost savings and regulatory compliance. Make sure your employees know how to properly dispose of all materials.
  • Ensure that your chemical wastes have been evaluated and that they are disposed of properly. Many laboratory reagents contain preservatives, so make sure you know if your reagents contain thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative that may need to be collected as a hazardous waste).
  • Consider purchasing smaller quantities of reagents. While it may be cheaper to buy reagents in bulk, if you aren’t able to use them before they expire, they will need to be disposed of.
  • Consider using less-hazardous reagents. This will be safer for employees, reduce local hazardous exhaust needs, and reduce hazardous waste costs.
  • Practice energy conservation:
    • Upgrade to more energy-efficient lab instruments and refrigerators/freezers.
    • Turn off lights when they are not needed.
    • Turn off (or switch to low-flow) chemical fume hoods and biological safety cabinets when they are not in use (if it’s safe to do so).
  • Speak with colleagues and identify environmentally friendly activities that you can set up in your lab and get creative. A friendly competition on waste reduction or environmental awareness could get everyone excited and get the creative juices flowing.
  • Communicate information on your lab’s and organization’s environmental program to your colleagues. Provide them with resources so that they can make a difference outside of work.

Conduct an Energy Audit—at work, at school, or at home, and find out where you use the most energy and develop strategies to help you save energy. Learn about Tips to Reduce Waste at the Office and Reducing Plastic Waste.

Have some fun at home—how about building a Recycled Trash Sculpture, a Mud Pie Kitchen, or Make Paper? Here’s a fun way to Feed the Birds.

As I did some searching on Earth Day information, I found some other great resources and fun/educational activities. Take a look and enjoy—there’s some great reading below:

For laboratories:

For children, young adults, and families:

If your laboratory or organization has come up with some Earth Day activities or ways to go green, let me know, and I’ll share with others. And don’t miss Arbor Day, April 27, 2018—it is right around the corner. Happy spring and happy green.

Pat Hlavka (@pathlavka)

Pat Hlavka

Pat Hlavka is a Safety Coordinator in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. She received a B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an M.S. degree in Safety from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers. Pat worked as a safety professional in the industrial setting (IBM and Benchmark Electronics) for over 15 years. Since joining the Mayo Clinic in 2008, her responsibilities have focused on laboratory safety including the safety audit program, developing and maintaining documentation, training, communications, awareness, incident investigation, laboratory safety committees, and emergency management.