UBC Reports
December 12, 1996


Environmental Services

Chemicals transformed from waste to wealth

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

Efforts to reuse and reclaim chemicals used on campus are saving the university thousands of dollars annually and preventing hundreds of kilograms of hazardous waste from heading for disposal.

For several years, the university's Environmental Services Facility has been recovering photochemicals used in campus darkrooms, as well as solvents used in experiments and procedures in labs and at Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre's university site. A chemical exchange program developed in 1995 is ensuring many chemicals that might otherwise be disposed of are available for reuse.

The chemicals are processed in a variety of ways, depending on the level of contamination and the type of chemical. Certain hazardous wastes are forwarded to a waste disposal company, some materials are neutralized at UBC before being disposed of, and an increasing amount and range of chemicals are either recovered or simply made available for use by others on campus.

Ron Aamodt, a technician at the Environmental Services Facility, said many labs on campus will periodically forward surplus or outdated chemicals to the facility. Aamodt regularly circulates an inventory list to campus lab managers who, if Aamodt has what they require, can obtain chemicals for free from the facility rather than going to an outside supplier.

In 1995 approximately 700 kilograms of hazardous materials destined for disposal were processed through the exchange program. The solvent recovery program, which deals with methanol, ethanol, acetone, acetonitrile, xylene and dichloromethane, nearly doubled its production level from 250 litres per month in December 1994 to 400 litres per month in December 1995.

"What we are aiming to do is target departments or labs that have a waste stream where there is very little contamination," Aamodt said. "What we have to do is to snoop around and ask people in different labs what kind of a waste stream the lab is generating and then recover as much as we can."

A program to treat and recover photographic waste solutions has also been very successful. Prior to the establishment of the program, all photographic waste on campus was disposed of. Now it is estimated that the majority of photographic waste generated at UBC is handled by the facility. Silver recovered from the solutions is collected regularly by an outside company that compensates the university for the material's value less processing costs.

Waste processing facility technician Bang Dang is also working with a fourth-year engineering student to broaden the recovery program's capabilities.

Through solvent recovery, photo waste treatment, chemical exchange and neutralization, the university's chemical waste programs generated nearly $17,000 in revenue and savings in 1995.

The revenue was generated through sales of the solvents and silver recovered, while substantial savings -- nearly $12,000 -- were generated through reduced disposal costs thanks to the neutralization and exchange programs.

The facility's chemical inventory list and further information on environmental programs at UBC are available on the Internet at http://www.safety.ubc.ca/envprog/env.htm.