Sustainability is more than just a buzzword. Yet, sometimes you wonder if anyone broke that news to product labelers. While companies across all industries have subscribed to sustainable philosophies, made commitments to corporate responsibility, and launched initiatives to reduce their reliance on natural resources, product labels adorned with eye-catching environmental claims can be misleading if buyers don’t do their research.
Academic and industrial laboratories are taking their own actions to become more sustainable in an effort to protect workers, the environment, and the surrounding community. Lab managers can’t just rely on a product label — they need to understand the long-term impacts that chemicals, cleaners, and equipment have on human health and the environment to ensure safety.
To do so, laboratory managers need to consider the impacts of the product throughout its life cycle, from raw materials and production to distribution, consumption, and disposal. Following are questions to help you make a quick assessment of the life cycle impacts a product has on human health and the environment. We filled out the assessment ourselves using Amphomag® Universal Spill Neutralizer as an example.
Questions and Answers
Knowing the ingredients in a product and whether each ingredient is natural or synthetic is an important first step in gaining a life-cycle perspective.
Amphomag®, a universal acid-base neutralizer for spill cleanup, is a magnesia-based product.
Distribution can play a large role in the overall environmental impact of a product, in particular as it pertains to greenhouse gases. A product may seem to be the safest for human health and the environment compared to its alternatives, but if it travelled across the world to get to your lab, it may end up having the largest environmental footprint after all.
Amphomag® and other product brands are produced at the Premier Magnesia, LLC, mine and processing plant located in Gabbs, NV. It is the only domestically mined source of magnesia ore in the United States.
Shelf life plays a very large role in determining an item with the least environmental impact. If a product says it is superior, but holds half the shelf life of its alternatives, it may not be the best choice for those looking to reduce waste.
There is no shelf life or expiration date for Amphomag®, as long as the product remains in the original factory-sealed container and is stored in a cool, dry place. We recommend inspection of the product every 6 months. If the product is clumped or you see a color change, then it should be replaced.
The longer it takes a product to become effective, the more volatile emissions could be entering the air, threatening the long-term health of lab workers.
Amphomag® works immediately to clean a hazardous spill. It is used to neutralize acids, bases, and gases, adsorb liquids, and control odors in minutes. A color-changing pH indicator turns red when interacting with an acid, blue when interacting with a base, and a yellow/green to confirm the spill has been neutralized. It also requires 30 percent less volume per use than comparable chemical clean-up products.
Hazardous waste embarks on a journey of its own once it is collected by clean-up crews. Depending on the chemical makeup and potential reuse of the material, it can be reclaimed, recycled, re-refined, incinerated or placed in hazardous landfills. Each option adds anything from transportation to energy, packaging, and water use to a life-cycle impact calculation.
Amphomag® poses no threat to the environment. Once hazardous chemicals are neutralized, they can be disposed of according to local laws.
The sustainability of a lab or any other facility is based on three pillars: economic, environmental, and community. So yes, it is about minimizing our impact on the environment, but it also is about keeping businesses financially sound and the public healthy. Keeping this long view in mind as you determine the safest and most effective products for your lab will ensure your work continues for generations to come.