Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2022


Environmental Studies


John Van Buren


One of the pillars of environmental studies is the analysis of the natural world and the research being done to rectify harmful human activity on it. Laboratory components in the fields of chemistry, biology, ecology, among others, are powerful tools for learning about the way our environment works and assessing how human activities harm it. More advanced laboratories conduct research in the pursuit of new technologies to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. Concurrently, this work yields large quantities of waste. While laboratories are inherently valuable to the field of environmental science, the waste created by them raises a question of net benefit. This paper explores the question: Do scientific laboratories produce more good than bad? Chapter 1 takes a quantitative look at scientific waste in terms of plastic, hazardous materials, water, and energy. After getting a grasp of how sizable the problem is, I investigate the history of laboratory protocol and waste disposal as it relates to reducing environmental impact in Chapter 2. In addition, I consider the history of chemistry itself and its transformation into an industry tool. This leads to the foundations and principles of green chemistry, as a result of increasing environmental awareness, which are laid out in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 uses data from peer-reviewed journal articles to assess economic, political, and ethical considerations of scientific waste and green chemistry. This includes discussions of how socioeconomic status correlates with hazardous waste harm, the sense of urgency in science to make leaps against the new climate regime, and how policymakers play a critical role in the future of sustainable scientific research. Finally, Chapter 5 builds on the previous chapter and gives potential policy recommendations for further implementation of green chemistry in laboratories.