NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NCATS’s ‘Green Champion’ Reduces Plastic Waste in Labs

Ms. Klumpp-Thomas
Carleen Klumpp-Thomas

Even the most routine NIH science experiments can leave behind a big environmental footprint—from high-powered equipment running around the clock to non-reusable lab supplies. This is especially true of experiments happening at NCATS.

One of the center’s major programs involves high-throughput screening (HTS), an approach that lets scientists test the potential usefulness of thousands of compounds at a time. While HTS can significantly speed up the search for potential new drugs, it produces a lot of waste. It uses nearly a billion pieces of single-use plastic plates and pipette tips every year, costing money and producing tons of trash.

Although HTS is used in labs across the country, little has been done to decrease its material waste, partly because the number of plastic products used in each HTS experiment could not be reduced. The best way to cut the overall use of plastic products was to develop a way to reuse them. Carleen Klumpp-Thomas, research services core (RSC) and automation lead for NCATS’s intramural program, did just that.

She spent 5 years optimizing and improving protocols for various applications by running experiments with the RSC team utilizing different detergents, instruments and washing processes. Once she found the best cleaning protocols, she worked closely with NCATS biologists to ensure the reused HTS products performed just as well as new ones. In fact, her results were so impressive that the reused plastic products occasionally outperformed the new ones. An added bonus: The cleaning techniques didn’t require any new equipment.

“Carleen has essentially turned what were once consumables into resources that can be used multiple times, saving NCATS thousands of dollars that have been reinvested into experimentation as opposed to buying more consumables,” said NCATS director Dr. Christopher Austin.

For these reasons, Klumpp-Thomas was selected as a Department of Health and Human Services Green Champion for Operational Efficiency.

For more information about her work, emails can be sent to

The NIH Record

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