Blue Water Task Force, Water Quality
January 09 2018

Upgrading BWTF Labs to Reduce Plastic Waste

by Colleen Henn

The methods used by Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) labs to collect and process water quality samples require a lot of materials, including sample collection bags, pipettes, bottles, and trays. Because all items used in the process must be sterile, we largely depend on disposable plastics. But, some chapters are rising above plastics by upgrading their water testing labs by purchasing an autoclave and reusable glassware to process samples.

In 2017, Surfrider’s BWTF labs collected over 5,000 samples. For most labs that is one sample bag, one pipette, one mixing bottle, and one tray for each sample processed, contributing to the total consumption and waste of thousands of pieces of plastic program-wide. There is a more sustainable option. By purchasing an autoclave, labs are able to sanitize and reuse glass bottles and pipettes after each use, drastically reducing the overall plastic waste of their sampling and lab procedures.

Autoclave with reusable glass bottles.

Autoclave loaded with reusable glass bottles to be sterilized for re-use.

Reusable glass bottles with autoclavable caps. Autoclave Pipet Box.

Reusable glass bottles with autoclavable caps, glass pipettes, and an autoclave box for the pipettes. 

Although glassware is initially more expensive than plastic supplies, it is well worth the investment if your chapter has an established testing program, enough funds and adequate space to set-up an autoclave. It costs approximately $4500 to purchase the equipment and glassware needed to make this transition including an autoclave, glass bottles, glass pipettes, a pipet box, and tape. With this investment, however, a chapter’s cost per water quality sample will eventually decrease with recurring use of glassware. Job satisfaction for all your volunteers will certainly increase as you reduce the plastic footprint of your chapter’s water testing program, making it more sustainable and in line with Surfrider’s core mission to protect and enjoy our ocean, waves and beaches.  

If your chapter doesn’t have the funds to make this investment, there are often local grant opportunities from foundations that like to assist with capital costs. Upgrading a lab to reduce plastic reduction can be an easy sell to a donor, and it is relatively easy to describe exactly what investment a donor is making and the local benefit..  

If your chapter is interested in purchasing an autoclave, or for ideas on where to look for funding assistance, contact Colleen Henn at chenn@surfrider.org.

Once you’ve purchased your autoclave and associated material, view the tutorial videos below to learn how to set up and use your autoclave.

Tutorial Videos:

How to Set Up Your Autoclave from Surfrider Foundation on Vimeo.

How to Use Your Autoclave from Surfrider Foundation on Vimeo.

For specific cleaning instructions, please visit Tutnauuer's "Cleaning and Maitenance" page. 

Volunteers illustrating "job satisfaction" after their first run with an autoclave.