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on campus will periodically forward surplus or outdated chemicals to the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

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