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Pollution Prevention and Waste Minimization

The University of Texas Health Science Center at HoustonMedical School, is a major medical research and teaching institution located in the Texas Medical CenterHoustonTX.  The Medical School maintains small quantity generator status and generates approximately 800 lbs. of hazardous and non-hazardous waste per month from 1200 laboratories.  Wastes are generated primarily from research experiments and film processing.  Theses activities generate waste solvents, acids and bases, and silver.  The wastes generated are collected from individual laboratories on a routine basis, stored within container storage areas located onsite, and finally collected by an outside contractor for treatment and disposal.

Employing simple common sense practices in each laboratory has minimized a significant amount of hazardous waste.  These waste minimization practices were initially implemented in 1996 through a newsletter titled “Hazardous Waste Minimization Now!”.  Our current method of conveying waste minimization is through employee orientation training and an ongoing poster campaign. Specific topics addressed include: 

  1. Planning experiments to limit waste
  2. Reduction of waste through use of microscale protocols
  3. Segregation of hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals
  4. Prevention of orphaned chemicals through proper labeling
  5. Limiting spills and leaks
  6. Information about our free chemical reuse and alcohol thermometer replacement programs

 The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston is a dynamic institution that has experienced significant growth over the past thirty years, and will continue to grow in the future.  One of the lead indicators of production in the research and educational setting is the amount of extramural research money secured annually by the institution.  In 1987 the UT-Medical School received almost 30 million dollars for research activities and generated over 30 tons of hazardous waste.  In 2004, research funds received by the Medical School increased to over 96 million dollars while the hazardous waste generated decreased to 5.34 tons.  Since 1987 the Medical School’s production, or amount of research, has nearly tripled, while the hazardous waste generated from these activities has been reduced by 82%. While the hazardous waste reductions in the past have been significant, continued growth of the institution will require creativity and improved recycling technologies to maintain, and potentially reduce waste volumes.