Overview of Daily Lab Consumables

Laboratory consumables are mainly composed of polymers made from monomers derived from petrochemicals, including polypropylene, polyethylene and polystyrene. Chemicals leaking from plastic consumables are considered an underestimated problem in life science applications.

Laboratory consumables. Image Credit: Elpisterra/Shutterstock.com

However, the increased focus on increasing durability in laboratories around the world has led to a shift in perception within the scientific community, with high quality consumables and comprehensive manufacturer provided information regarding additives becoming increasingly important in laboratory processes.

The current lab consumables landscape

Extractables and leachables were identified in microcentrifuge tubes. A paper published in 2021 used sensitive analytical methods: HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography), UHPLC (ultra high pressure liquid chromatography), GC (gas chromatography) and MS (mass spectrometry) to study the nature of leached organic substances. from standard microcentrifuge tubes produced by a range of manufacturers in samples after incubation under typical test conditions with water.

The results showed that large amounts of organic substances were migrating into the samples. Analysis of these extracts demonstrated that they were primarily typical polypropylene additives which include antioxidants, processing stabilizers and nucleating agents. In sum, the total amount of extractables analyzed was high to very high. These leaching effects are notable because they are known to produce adverse effects on various assay systems, for example, nucleating/clarifying agents: 3,4-dimethylbenzaldehyde and dimethyl-dibenzylidene sorbitol (Millad 3988), and similar compounds are known to produce strong absorption spectra that resemble nucleic acids.

The results demonstrate that the majority of plastic-based laboratory consumables continue to possess various polymerization by-products in addition to the pure polymer. This could be the result of adding various chemicals to reduce production costs; with the unintended effect of changing the consumable property and subsequently affecting the accuracy of the experimental results.

The limits of plastic-based laboratory consumables

Due to pressure to reduce single-use plastic in labs, the high standard for plastic-based lab consumables will likely be lowered, as efforts to reduce total polypropylene content will result in recycling-based manufacturing. , resulting in the incorporation of substandard chemicals. This will subsequently result in an inability to use recycled plastic for reactions. This is especially true in polymerase chain reactions, the most common tool in biomolecular labs.

In these settings, contamination of DNA with leachables can significantly interfere with the results or interpretation of the assay analysis. The PCR reaction requires high temperatures for denaturation, reaching up to 95°C. Single-use plastic must be able to withstand these high temperatures as well as be able to withstand heating and cooling cycles over an extended period of time. Recycled plastics are not suitable for such applications and as such will produce compromised results.

Disposable plastics are considered non-recyclable, with most labs disposing of them via plastic bags, autoclaving, transporting contaminated cell cultures, and sending them to landfills. This includes lab consumables that only carried water, as they are considered health and safety concerns.

The ability to recycle laboratory consumables has long been a problem faced by researchers because they are biologically contaminated. However, this has resulted in innovative solutions to circumvent this problem. For example, the use of a decontamination station, piloted by Dr David Kuntin at the University of York. This involved a 16-hour soaking of the plastics in a high-level disinfectant followed by a subsequent water rinse to ensure chemical decontamination; this represents a new way to recycle laboratory plastics.

It is also possible to replace plastic lab consumables with glass lab consumables. Glass pieces can be decontaminated by autoclaving and then reused without chemical decontamination. However, the glass material is often not suitable for use, for example during centrifugation. However, glass represents a viable alternative in cases where non-pathogenic and cytotoxic materials are required.

Laboratory consumables
Laboratory consumables. Image Credit: Kiattipong/Shutterstock.com

More sustainable use of plastic-based laboratory consumables in the laboratory

The most commonly recycled plastics are polystyrene, polypropylene and high or low density polyethylene. Polypropylene is commonly used for centrifuge tubes, while polystyrene is mainly incorporated into culture flasks and high and low density polyethylene are used to produce lids. Understanding the nature of the material used to produce lab consumables will help labs become more sustainable.

Increasingly, researchers are being pressured to move away from single-use plastics in the lab with around 20,500 institutions worldwide involved in medical, biological or agricultural research producing around 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste ( estimate in 2014). Single-use plastics mainly come in the form of packaging, syringes and beakers.

Single-use plastics as forms of laboratory consumables have advantages in the laboratory: they are generally less expensive, can be standardized easily, and are often sterile before being used and then discarded. However, single-use plastics degrade slowly, producing parts with a diameter of

These phthalic acid esters can then leach into the environment causing widespread effects, including entry into the food chain. Phthalic acid esters have been detected in popular drinks in Turkey.

Manufacturers of laboratory consumables are also following the evolution of attitudes towards consumables. Bioplastics, biodegradable plastics or polymers produced from renewable sources and biological systems, are expected to occupy a 40% share of the plastics industry by 2030.

This change is driven by a low-carbon circular economy. The development of biodegradable polymers from biomass aims to replace current non-biodegradable plastic laboratory consumables from petrochemicals. They are a way for researchers around the world to reduce their carbon footprint.

Examples of such bioplastics include those that use glycolic acid, a polyglycolic acid monomer. It is the most commonly used comonomer to produce poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) copolymers. It provides the mechanical strength needed for laboratory consumables while allowing biodegradation to take copolymers by the US Food and Drug Administration for biomedical application.

As such, polyglycolic acid-based copolymers can be used to produce shape memory films, biomedical scaffolds, and antimicrobial coatings, which will increase the repertoire of useful high-performance green plastics in production.

These bioplastics meet the integrity and quality requirements to replace single-use plastics in laboratories, especially since reducing, reusing and recycling now represent the frame of reference around a widely adopted circular economy. by laboratories.

Future perspectives on laboratory consumables suggest that through a circular, low-carbon economy, the harmful effects of conventional plastics on the environment will be mitigated.

The references:

  • Alves J, Sargison FA, Stawarz H, et al. Case Study: Overview of Plastic Waste Reduction in an Open Access Microbiology Lab. Go to Microbiology. 2020;3(3). doi: 10.1099/acmi.0.000173.
  • Samantaray PK, Little A, Haddletin, DM et al. Poly(glycolic acid) (PGA): A versatile building block developing durable, high-performance bioplastic applications. Green Chem., 2020;22:4055-4081. doi: 10.1039/D0GC01394C.
  • Grzeskowiak R. Extractables and leachables in microcentrifuge tubes – In-depth HPLC/GC/MS analysis. Available at: https://www.eppendorf.com/product-media/doc/en/625557/Consumables_Application-Note_417_Microcentrifuge-Tubes_Extractables-Leachables-Microcentrifuge-Tubes-Extensive-HPLC-GC-MS-Analysis.pdf. Last consulted in January 2022.
  • Ustun I, Sungur S, Okur R, et al. Determination of phthalates migrating from plastic containers to beverages. Methods of food analysis. 2015 ; 8:222-228. doi: 10.1007/s12161-014-9896-5.
  • Alves J, Sargison FA, Stawarz H, et al. About a case: insight into plastic waste reduction in a microbiology laboratory. Go to Microbiol. 2020;3(3):000173. doi:10.1099/acmi.0.000173.
  • Grzeskowiak R & Gerke N. Washables: Minimizing the Influence of Plastic Consumables on Laboratory Workflows. Eppendorf AG, Germany. Available at: https://www.eppendorf.com/product-media/doc/en/146279/Consumables_White-Paper_026_Consumables_Leachables-Minimizing-Influence-Plastic-Consumables-Laboratory-Workflows.pdf. Last consulted in January 2022.

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