What is the Solvent Recycling Program?

This is a free program on the CU Boulder campus made possible by CU Green Labs and Environmental Health & Safety which promotes the recycling and reuse of solvents. The goals of the program are to save labs money and to reduce the amount of hazardous waste produced by campus labs.

Why should my lab participate in the Solvent Recycling Program?

  • Save money for your lab by receiving free distilled solvents.
  • Reduce the amount of hazardous waste leaving CU Boulder.
  • Reduce the need to bring additional solvents to campus.
  • Benefit the environment!

What solvents are accepted?

We are willing to consider all solvents for this program. Currently methanol, ethanol, and acetone are distilled on campus. If your lab generates other solvent waste, contact EH&S to see if they may be good candidates for the solvent recycling program.

What are common uses of recycled solvents?

Recycled solvents are typically used for teaching labs, rinsing glassware, sterilizing biosafety cabinets, and for Coomassie staining and destaining. Try out recycled solvent in your lab and see how it works for you!

Can my lab participate in the Solvent Recycling Program?

Any lab associated with CU Boulder may participate in the program, but in most cases labs must be set up with a hazardous waste satellite accumulation area and someone must be trained to handle hazardous waste in order to get started. EH&S provides a training for lab members called Lab Safety & Hazardous Waste Generation which is offered once a month in person as well as online, and can help your lab set up a hazardous waste accumulation area if you don't already have one. For questions about training requirements or whether your solvent mixture can be distilled, contact Hazmat, Environmental Health and Safety: hazmat@colorado.edu 

What is the process, and how can my lab join?

If your lab is located in Cristol, Ekeley, or CIRES, contact Dr. Jacquie Richardson to get started.

  • Use an empty acetone, methanol, or ethanol plastic jug (usually 4L) to collect your solvent waste.
  • Ensure that any solvent waste you collect for distillation is labeled as Hazardous Waste and has an Accumulation Start Date.
  • Contact Jacquie so she can provide you with collection bottles and tell you where to drop off solvent waste for distillation.
  • Solvents are distilled on Main Campus.
  • Email Jacquie if your lab would like to receive free recycled solvent.
  • Purity testing via NMR can be done by request for distilled solvents.

For all labs located outside Cristol, Ekeley, and CIRES, contact Hazmat, Environmental Health and Safety to let them know that your lab is interested in participating in the solvent recycling program and your lab's location.

  • Use an empty acetone, methanol, or ethanol plastic jug (usually 4L) to collect your solvent waste.
  • Ensure that any solvent waste you collection for distillation is labeled as Hazardous Waste and has an Accumulation Start Date.
  • Use the normal hazardous waste disposal tags provided by EH&S to label collections of solvent for distillation. Write DISTILL or RECYCLE on the tag in addition to the usual information.
  • EH&S will transport the solvent waste to one of the two campus fractional distillation units.
  • Solvent gets distilled.
  • Email Hazmat, Environmental Health and Safety if your lab would like to receive free recycled solvent for your lab and he will provide further instruction.
  • Purity testing via NMR can be done by request.

What is done for quality control?

While the solvent distillation unit is very effective, purity testing via NMR can be done per your lab’s request. Below is an example of an NMR done on a distilled acetone sample.
NMR showing highly pure distilled acetone

How much money has the Solvent Recycling Program saved CU Boulder labs thus far?

Since 2013 the Solvent Recycling Program has resulted in the reuse of over 600 gallons of recycled acetone for a savings of over $10,000 to all the labs that have participated. 
Graph of cumulative savings due to acetone recycling since 2013

Who should I contact about this Program?

For labs in Cristol, Ekeley, and CIRES:

Dr. Jacquie Richardson, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
(303) 492-8256

For all other CU Boulder labs outside Cristol, Ekeley, and CIRES, and for general inquiries about the program:

Hazmat, Environmental Health & Safety
(303) 492-3675

Distillation of Acetone, Methanol, and Ethanol

photo of solvent distillation unitOur former Chemistry Team Lead, Lily Robertson, who was working towards her Ph.D in chemistry, began an acetone recycling program in the chemistry building in June 2013. She wrote a Sustainable CU Grant to obtain funding for the first fractional distillation unit on campus, and matching funding was provided by the Chemistry Department and Facilities Managment. This acetone recycling achieves an overall efficiency of 76% and has saved CU Boulder labs over $10,000 since 2013, not to mention the savings on disposal costs for hazardous waste. Many labs at CU Boulder participate in the acetone recycling program. Methanol, ethanol, and other solvents can also be distilled in fractional distillation units. In 2016 a second fractional distillation unit was purchased for campus with funds provided by Facilities Management, and it is now in place in the Environmental Health and Safety Building (EHS).

Explanation of Solvent Recycling Process for Acetone

Ethanol Reuse

The Stable Isotope Lab at the Institute for Alpine and Artic Research (INSTAAR) uses ethanol cold traps during its analysis of ice core samples and at the end of the process, they are left with a 85-90% diluted ethanol and water solution. Previously, this ethanol solution left-over from Ethanol ReuseINSTAAR was discarded as hazardous waste, but now, the Biochemsitry Cell Culture Facility dilutes this ethanol and water solution further, to a 70% dilution and reuses it to sterilize biosafety cabinets and other items. 

Ethanol reuse has been in effect at CU Boulder for several years with ~120 gallons of ethanol/year being diverted from hazardous waste and being re-used in Biochemistry cell culture, saving the cell culture facility ~$1500/yr in avoided ethanol purchasing costs. The ethanol is transported between the two INSTAAR & Biochemistry Cell Culture labs by Environmental Health & Safety.