This past fall, a bumper crop of junior and senior chemistry majors enrolled in my inorganic laboratory course. In fact, we had enough student interest that we had to open a second weekly 4-hour lab section. The combined group of 18 students ran five experiments of my choosing and then spent two weeks at the end of the semester engaged in nine different independent projects. (See my syllabus LO describing the course here.)
The course was great fun for everyone, myself included, and when the semester ended in mid-December, we all collapsed as students and faculty tend to do.
In January I returned to campus and began the task of organizing our fall semester waste for processing. It was only then that I realized future iterations of this course will need to include significant training for students re: chemical waste management.
For the five pre-selected experiments, I had created waste bottles and filled out the label sheets, and most of our students are good at following directions and putting waste in the appropriate place. (Two years ago I found that someone had added soapy water to the organic waste, dutifully writing down what they’d added on the label sheet.) However, for the independent projects, I asked each pair to track their own chemical waste, and the results varied. Some students had two waste containers but only one label sheet. In many cases, the volumes listed on the label sheet did not sum up to match the volume evident in the waste container. As our lab coordinator and I struggled to identify and organize the students’ waste, I realized I should have spent at least a half day in lecture focused on waste management.
A corollary is training students about labeling their synthetic products. I’ve included some photos of the products I cleaned up at the end of the semester. Luckily, with initials and dates, I was able to identify all of these products. It also helps that I was disposing of the products just after the semester ended, not years later. In defense of my students, I think some finer tip Sharpie pens for writing on the labels would have helped them include more information.
The next time I teach the inorganic lab course, I plan to give even more emphasis to waste management training, and I will assign major points for waste management as part of the independent projects. I will also likely ask them to submit a written waste plan for approval before starting on their independent projects.