Annual Review 2023

Cutting down waste

CERA’s Community Climate Action Group is taking advantage of change to reduce waste in research.


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A laboratory can use up to five times more energy and water than an office building.

This high energy use, combined with the frequent use of single-use items such as latex gloves and syringes, means research has a considerable impact on the environment.

Now a new CERA Community Climate Action Group is aiming to reduce the impact wherever possible and take advantage of moving location.

Laboratory manager Sheridan Keene explains.

“Our labs and offices are moving to a sustainable building, which has achieved a National Australian Built Environment Rating System Energy rating of six stars, a six-star Green Star Design and As Built Certification and a WELL gold rating for the base building.”

“This is a great opportunity for us to change how we manage waste.

There is a big international movement towards making health research greener, and we’re working to be a part of that.”

Simple steps

The CERA Community Climate Action Group started when Keene and Dr Heather Machin, Head of the Lions Eye Donation Service, began discussing how they might be more environmentally sustainable across the organisation.

“We started with the simple things and found we were already doing a lot, like recycling ink cartridges and using commingled recycling, but we wanted to step that up,” Keene says.

“So we set up a system for reusing scrap paper for jotting down lab notes, to recycle pens and batteries and put up signs reminding people to turn off lights when leaving an area.”

There are also more challenges unique to health research.

“The clinical trials team receive single-use electronic monitors with drug deliveries to make sure drugs are transported at the correct temperature, but weren’t sure how to dispose of them,” she says.

“The team contacted the company who makes them, and we were pointed towards a provider who can recycle them.”

Excess equipment is also being donated to Rotary Australia’s MediShare for distribution to people and organisations around the world who can use it.

Better practice

Keene says single-use equipment is an issue across medical research and healthcare.

“Ophthalmology produces some of the most waste in the medical field,’’ she says.

“The average surgery time is so short many procedures can be performed in a day, and a lot of consumables are needed for each surgery. Any changes we make can have a really big impact.”

CERA’s move to a new building is also an opportunity to update both equipment and practices to be more environmentally friendly.

“Our new ultra-low freezers can keep samples at minus 80 degrees Celsius more efficient than our old ones, but they still use a lot of power,” Keene says.

“But we don’t need to keep samples at that temperature – you can keep samples at minus 70 degrees and not affect research, which uses a lot less power.”

Other new equipment includes water baths that use metal beads instead of liquid, which uses less electricity and are set on automatic timers to be on only when they need to be.

“There is an initial expense, but long term there’s a financial benefit to a lot of these changes,” says Keene.

The move to a new lab is also an opportunity to change habits.

“Some researchers might prefer to use a particular chemical because that is what they’ve used for the last 20 years, but now there might be a new chemical that is less dangerous, cheaper and easier to dispose of,” says Keene.

“Change can be a slow burn, but this is a unique chance for us to really change our culture and build new habits.”


This story was originally published in People in focus: Annual Review 2023.

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