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Lab Pack Guide: What Your Business Needs to Know About LabPacking Hazardous Waste for Shipment and Disposal

Guide to Managing Wastes for Laboratories 

This guide was originally prepared by the U.S. EPA to provide information about small chemical laboratory environmental issues. EHSO has updated and revised it to make it more useful. Click here for the printable pdf version of the SMALL LABORATORY GUIDE  (814K) Be sure to ALSO see this page on OSHA lab standards and requirements !!!

The Guide for Laboratories offers the following:

What is a "laboratory?"

The word "laboratory" (or "lab") is generally used to describe a facility that conducts experimental or routine testing. Most people associate labs with activities involving chemicals.

Although there are some large lab organizations, such as research and development functions in corporations and government, most labs are small businesses or small entities within larger organizations. These labs may be in hospitals, warehouses, business, colleges or a stand-alone business or operation.

For example, many communities have at least one independent testing lab with 10 or fewer employees. These local labs may test a wide range of environmental, physical material, medical, biological, or food samples. A review of your local telephone directory often reveals a surprising number and variety of labs. At most small labs, environmental management is a "shared" responsibility as opposed to that of a single individual.

Common lab types include:

In each of these cases, it is useful to think of the lab as a small business that either operates on its own or is "captive" to a larger organization. The environmental aspects of "captive" labs should be evaluated independently because lab staff and activities are often very different from the rest of the organization or business they are associated with.

To help protect workers from the diversity of chemical hazards in labs, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established the " Lab Standard " in 1990. OSHA estimated there are about 35,.000 labs in the U. S.. Given this number, it is probably safe to assume that most states have hundreds of labs.

What is a "small lab" - Is it different from a "large" lab?

For the purpose of this guide, a “small lab” is one that has no full-time position in environmental management. In small labs, environmental management is most likely a shared responsibility or administered by part­time staff or through collateral duty. Given this definition, most labs probably fall into this “small lab” category and will benefit from this document . Of course, many large labs should benefit from the information contained in this document as well. However, large labs are likely to have additional environmental management responsibility that is not fully addressed here. Air emissions management is one example where large labs, especially those involved in research and development may have additional responsibility because large lab air emissions may be greater.

Small labs are diverse in their settings and operations. Some small labs are affiliated with a larger organization, while others are independent operations. Given widespread use of the word “lab” many types of small labs exist; a few are listed below.



  • Contract Research in the Healthcare, Chemical, Natural Resources, Energy, or Manufacturing Industries
  • Commercial Testing Labs in the Environmental, Material Science, Healthcare, Industrial Hygiene, Food, and Engineering Sectors


  • Teaching and Research Labs in Academia

  •   Hospital Labs

  • Quality Assurance Labs in Manufacturing

  •   Forensic Labs

  • Water and Wastewater Plant Labs

  • Government Research and Testing Labs

  •   Private Research and Development Labs

All of these small lab types should benefit from the information in this Guide. Text Box:  PAGE 3
The remainder of this document is organized into four additional sections.


What environmental issues occur in labs?

Unlike other small businesses such as printers, auto shops, and dry cleaners, which tend to generate large quantities of a few pollutants, labs typically generate small quantities of a wide variety of pollutants. This characteristic requires careful attention in dealing with labs on compliance and on pollution prevention issues. In fact, because of this characteristic, the term "lab pack" was coined years ago by hazardous waste firms to describe a typical method of waste handling. In a "lab pack" a number of small containers (i.e. jugs and bottles) of hazardous waste, are individually packaged in a traditional 55 gallon drum. Although "lab packs" appear inefficient compared to combining all materials, they make sense because it is unwise, for safety and legal reasons, to encourage mixing different lab wastes in a single container.

Like many other small businesses, labs have environmental challenges and opportunities. associated with air quality management, wastewater management and hazardous waste management. Some examples follow:

In general, labs present a unique environmental compliance and pollution prevention situation that is very different from arty other small businesses needing assistance.

More special issues about labs

There are a number of additional concerns about labs that readers should be aware of. Among the most important are:

Finally, because there is no single association representing all labs, it is difficult to reach them effectively. Conversely, it is difficult for the labs to learn about the resources EPA and states can offer.

What EPA resources are available?

EPA recognizes the unique environmental challenges associated with small lab operations and has developed a document titled, "Environmental Management Guide for Small Laboratories" (Guide).

You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the Adobe PDF files on this page. See EPA's PDF page for more information about getting and using the free Acrobat Reader.

This page was updated on 30-Mar-2016