News / Toronto

UofT leads the way in recycling glass and plastic lab containers

The university's new glass and plastic recycling program helped divert nearly 30 metric tonnes of waste from local landfills in 2015.

Rachel Strickman, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, conducts an experiment using various glass beakers.

Courtesy University of Toronto/Ken Jones

Rachel Strickman, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, conducts an experiment using various glass beakers.

Back in 2011, Stan Szwagiel noticed labs at the University of Toronto were tossing an increasing amount of glass and plastic beakers into the garbage bin.

So, the grounds manager at the school’s St. George campus decided to do something about it.

Szwagiel, along with waste manager Reno Strano, devised a system to collect and recycle glass and plastic containers – everything from Erlenmeyer flasks to petri dishes.

The program has been an enormous success. In 2015, it helped divert nearly 30 metric tonnes of glass and plastic from the landfill, according to the school’s annual waste audits.

“The volumes involved are very drastic,” Szwagiel said.

The glass and plastic program at UofT is being used a model by other institutions looking to reduce their lab waste, including Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Labs at UofT go through a lot of containers, Szwagiel said, because many can only be used once, lest they contaminate future experiments.

Rather than send them to the landfill, the waste team at UofT found other ways to reuse them.

Some find a second life on campus, but most are shipped to recycling facilities. The glass is turned into material for sandblasting, Szwagiel said, while the plastic is sent to Asia for reuse or converted into materials like plastic lumber.

Reducing glass and plastic waste is just one part of a broader strategy that has helped the St. George campus divert 72 per cent of waste from local landfills. In addition to the recycled beakers, the school diverted 47 metric tonnes of e-waste, 300 tonnes of concrete and a whopping 500 tonnes of paper last year.

“It’s about the environment. Toronto is strapped for space for its landfill and as an institution we take great pride in reducing our waste and helping the community,” Szwagiel said.

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