A new University of Guelph student club determined to bring sustainability to the laboratory is giving old lab coats a new life.
Green Labs Guelph, started by five U of G students, is encouraging students to donate used chemistry lab coats for re-use.
They are holding an event in the University Centre Courtyard April 5-6, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., encouraging anyone on campus with unwanted lab coats to drop them off for donation. A drop-off box will also be available in front of the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) cafeteria April 4-6.
Students who donate their coats will be entered to win one of 40 gift cards worth $20 to a business of their choice.
With help from staff in the Department of Chemistry stockroom, the coats will be laundered, stored through the summer and re-sold to new students come September.
“It’s a great way to make sure that unwanted coats that would otherwise be discarded don’t end up in landfill but can find a new life with students who need them,” said Youstina Makhlouf, a first-year veterinary student who helped found Green Labs Guelph.
Makhlouf came up with the lab coat recycling idea while taking a sustainability course in her third year.
“That course really informed how I see the world,” said Makhlouf. “Brandon Raco, the sustainability manager at the Sustainability Office, did a presentation and talked about how campuses act like a living experiment for sustainability issues.”
Lab coats made of polyester, wrapped in plastic
With more than 40,000 students and staff, the campus is like a city on a small scale, Raco told the class, encouraging them to find ways to improve sustainability on campus.
Makhlouf thought of an old lab coat a previous roommate had left in their closet, even as new students had to buy new lab polyester-fibre coats, each wrapped in plastic. She and biomedical science student Vayshali Patel went to the Sustainability Office with the idea of a re-use program.
“We encouraged them to join our sustainability ambassador program,” said Sam Casey, communications and engagement coordinator with the Sustainability Office. “The program offers support to those wanting to create change on campus by providing guidance and mentorship to help students develop organizations, find funding and facilitate connections with new partners.”
Casey encouraged the pair to recruit others and start a student club.
“When students come to us with ideas, we always advise them to create organizations so that when they graduate and move on, their initiatives can have longevity through other club members.”
Three other students soon came on board: animal biology student Mikalya Astroff, who took on project management such as the lab coat reuse program; biomedical science student Madeline Kerrigan, who manages communication with club members; and microbiology student Karolina Stolarcyzk, who oversees the marketing committee.
More than 2,000 students a year need own lab coats
Their first step was to research the scope of the problem, which revealed that more than 2,000 students in science, agriculture and engineering take a first-year chemistry course requiring lab coats. With enrolment in those programs growing, more and more garments would be bought and then no longer needed.
In a survey, Green Labs Guelph asked students whether they’d prefer a one-time discounted price for a used coat or a deposit program in which they’d receive money back if they returned the coat at the end of its use.
“The deposit program idea won out, so that’s the approach we’re pursuing,” said Makhlouf.
Details are being worked out about where the used coats will be available for sale come September, but the lab coat re-use program is just the start of Green Labs Guelph’s many plans.
“There are so many opportunities to reduce waste in labs. We have looking at PPE sanitation or recycling for things like masks and gloves. We also want to reduce waste in the use of pipettes. The list goes on,” said Makhlouf.
Asked what motivates her work with Green Labs Guelph, Makhlouf said: “There are a lot of big problems in the world and it can be very easy to say, ‘Well, someone else will deal with it.’ What we wanted with Green Labs Guelph is to provide a place for students who are tired of waiting for someone else to do it.”
Green Labs Guelph