The University of Bath is home to the UK’s first BELLO

Image: The UK’s first pilot recycling facility for single-use plastic laboratory waste is located in a repurposed greenhouse on the University of Bath campus.
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Credit: LabCycle

A company co-founded by a University of Bath graduate has opened the UK’s first pilot plant that can recycle up to 60% of plastic laboratory waste into new laboratory consumables. LabCycle hopes this technology will be expanded in the future to recycle waste from healthcare, research and commercial laboratories that is currently incinerated or sent to landfill.

To avoid cross-contamination between experiments, most scientists in the laboratory use a large amount of single-use plastic in their daily research, including pipette tips, test tubes, Petri dishes, and multi-well dishes. Currently, less than 1% of this waste is recycled.

LabCycle, a startup co-founded by former University of Bath PhD student Dr Helen Liang, aims to recycle up to 60% of this waste, turning it into high-quality plastic pellets that can be used to make new tubes and Petri dishes. .

After decontamination, the plastic is turned into high-quality pellets the size of grains of rice, which are sent to LabCycle’s manufacturing partner for processing into new laboratory equipment.

Their unique recycling process does not require the waste to be sterilized (sterilized) beforehand which means less heat energy is needed. Water use is also reduced through recycling, reducing environmental impact.

Their recent collaboration with the University of Bath’s Innovation Center for Sustainable Applied Technologies (iCAST) tested the properties of recycled polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and showed that the polymers are suitable for full-circuit operation and use to make new consumables. For laboratory.

Dr Liang said: “Adopting a circular economy approach involves improving laboratory practices to reduce waste generation and resource consumption.

“Research and healthcare professionals can focus on reducing and reusing single-use plastics when possible.

“In addition, proper segregation of waste should be emphasized to enable recycling. It is encouraging that more than 90% of survey respondents from the research and healthcare sectors indicated a strong motivation to recycle single-use plastic waste.

Dr Liang, who received her PhD in Sustainable and Circular Technologies from the University of Bath in 2022, met her fellow founders and came up with the idea for the company at a SETsquared workshop in 2019.

Since then, LabCycle has secured funds worth around £430,000 to develop the technology and begin the commercialization process.

Following the success of a pilot project to recycle single-use plastic waste from three laboratories at the University of Bath in 2022, the team is working to commercialize the service.

With support from the Faculty of Science, iCAST and the Campus Infrastructure Team at the University of Bath, LabCycle has set up a pilot recycling plant in a converted greenhouse on campus and plans to implement waste recycling for its science and engineering laboratories.

They are also working with the local NHS Blood and Transplant Authority to recycle waste from their laboratories.

Dr Liang said: “We are very excited to open our new pilot facility and realize our vision of creating a circular economy for consumer plastics in the research and healthcare sectors. We are very grateful for the support provided by the University of Bath.”

“The idea that we are now able to recycle single-use plastic from our on-site research laboratories is really exciting and will be our small but important way of making an impact,” said Dr. Fabian Prado-Caggiano, Technical Supervisor in the University’s Department of Chemistry. on climate change without compromising our research.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Dr. Liang and we have fully supported her in her endeavors from the beginning. She has proven that her concept is powerful and of great value to the environment.

“I can’t wait to see Labcycle expand and thrive within the university and on a larger scale!”

Alice Lowe, Director of Climate Action Engagement and Training at the University of Bath, said: “In Bath, through the Climate Action Framework ( Climate Framework Principles/), We are committed to tackling the climate emergency in all aspects of university life, including through teaching, research, footprint and partnerships.

“Reducing the impact of the way we conduct our research is a challenging area we are working on, so we are thrilled to partner with LabCycle on this pioneering project to meaningfully address one aspect of this.”

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