Prepare to Recycle by Daniel Condon

Glass, metal and plastic recycling is integral to sustainable environmental practices. Columbia University laboratories can make a significant contribution by incorporating empty laboratory glassware and reagent container recycling into their waste management program. Only empty and uncontaminated glassware and containers are suitable for recycling, however. To be considered empty, glassware and containers must meet the EPA definition of empty (aka “RCRA empty”). This means that conventional methods of emptying (e.g., pouring, pumping, scooping, spooning, etc.) must be utilized to completely remove contents from the container before taking the next step, which is rinsing the empty glassware or container prior to recycling.

There are a few very important exceptions to rinsing empty containers that must be strictly followed, as noted below under “Exceptions to Rinsing.” If all conditions and exceptions have been met, the empty glassware or container should be rinsed with tap water according to the Rinsing Instructions below. Once dry and free from odor, the container can be recycled.
Rinsing Instructions:

  • “RCRA empty” glassware and containers should be filled with tap water. Containers larger than 1L, should be filled with approximately 1L of water or a sufficient volume for adequate rinsing.
  • Rinsate from RCRA empty containers may be discharged to a laboratory sink.
  • After rinsing, leave the clean, open container in a fume hood to dry and allow any residual odor to dissipate.
  • Containers can then either be:
    • Defaced to remove or obscure the manufacturer’s label, recapped and repurposed as a chemical waste collection container with the addition of a Columbia University Hazardous Waste label (be certain to ensure container and chemical compatibility) ; or
    • Defaced, recapped and recycled through Facilities

Exceptions to Rinsing: Glassware and containers that previously held the following materials MUST NOT be rinsed. Instead, the entire container, with residue, must be managed as hazardous waste in accordance with Columbia University’s “5Ls of Hazardous Waste Management”:

  • EPA acutely toxic P-listed waste. For reference, please refer to the “P-listed waste codes” available at Note, at Morningside, containers with P-listed materials are marked with a pink sticker through the ChemTracker program.
  • Pyrophoric materials;
  • Water reactive materials; and
  • All compressed gas cylinders and Aldrich Sure/Pac cylinders;

Examples of pyrophoric and water reactive materials include:

  • Aluminum alkyl compounds, borane in THF, carbides, hydrides, lithium alkyl compounds, lithium aluminum hydride, metal powders, Periodic Table Group I Metals, organometallics, sodium borohydride, and -yl chlorides.

For more information, please contact a Hazardous Materials Specialist at

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