Plastic is oftentimes chosen over glass as it is less costly. For that glass industry, this has had negative consequences: As demand drops, prices have had to increase. But, unlike disposable plastics, glass may be reused. And although higher than the cost of an equivalent plastic item, the cost of a reusable glass item is diminished with every use. “Convenience includes a price,” says Nicoll. “Per-use cost is typically higher for any disposable in comparison to a reusable product, even after figuring in washing and preparation costs.”
Some companies have found a niche in the region of specialty glass. Scientists to whom a resident glassblower (see accompanying story) will not be available can change to specialty Crucible using their ideas for laboratory glassware. Cal-Glass’s Cheatley recalls once being inspired to make glass hearts–not components of jewelry, but true replicas of human hearts through which medical researchers could practice placing catheters.
Bellco also provides specialty glass items. Sometimes, says Nicoll, things that were created for just one scientist come out to have universal appeal making their distance to Bellco’s catalog. “However,” says Nicoll, “it would appear that when specialty markets grow to a certain level for the item, somebody comes along and helps to make the item from plastic.” Most of the more creative requests that Bellco has filled remain a secret–they arose from scientist customers in the pharmaceutical industry and they are proprietary.
Cheatley is looking for new markets to beat the competition brought on by plastics and automation. The business recently introduced an all-glass photochemical treatment system called the EcoStill, which extracts silver from spent photochemicals. While the stills are targeted primarily to use in the photoprocessing industry, Cheatley expects those to prove useful in biological labs as a substitute for evaporators. Unlike standard evaporators, the EcoStill, an enclosed system, does not produce fumes, says Cheatley. And, he adds, the glass EcoStill is impervious to the chemicals that will damage standard stainless steel photochemical processors.
But sometimes glass just can’t perform the job. By way of example, “you can’t squeeze glass,” says Bel-Art’s Nunziata, whose company’s product line includes safety labeled squeeze bottles. Also, jugs and bottles for storage are usually manufactured from plastic as they are quicker to handle.
In recent times, plastics have been developed with most of the properties where glass is valued. By way of example, polymethylpentene is an extremely clear plastic with optical qualities nearly comparable to glass. Polymethylpentene is likewise autoclavable, and is employed for beakers, graduated cylinders, funnels, flasks, and a lot of other items traditionally manufactured from glass. Another clear plastic resistant to high temperatures is polycarbonate. Bel-Art markets a polycarbonate vacuum desiccator, utilized to remove moisture from your sample. A plastic desiccator has several positive aspects on the traditional glass apparatus, says George McClure, an engineer and senior corporate vice president of your company. Glass desiccators needs to be quite heavy to stop implosion from atmospheric air pressure, a potentially dangerous accident. The polycarbonate might be taken down to a whole vacuum without danger of implosion, and won’t crack or chip when it is dropped. The plastic desiccator is much less expensive than glass, McClure adds.
Plastic wasn’t always designed to supplant glass, however. About four decades ago, the initial product of Rochester, N.Y.-based Nalge Co. had been a plastic pipette jar. Nalge’s founder, Emanuel Goldberg, was really a manufacturer’s representative selling pipettes, and lots of of his customers complained that if they dropped their glass pipettes in the stainless-steel storage jar, the tips broke.
A chemist by training, Goldberg welded plastic bottoms to lengths of plastic pipe. “So, ironically, the first plastic product which Nalge made was designed to stop glass pipettes from breaking,” says Gordon Hamnett, national accounts manager for Nalge. “Subsequently, the company developed a lot of items that were designed because glass products were breaking. We created a type of beakers, graduated cylinders, and volumetric flasks, modeled very much after the original glass benchware which had been available commercially.” Today, about 25 percent of Nalge’s plastic items are disposable; the others are made to be reusable.
The demand for Pipette inside the life science market has exploded within the last decade, in accordance with Hamnett. For uses in cell biology labs, some plastics happen to be made to become more inert than glass, preventing cells from staying on the surface. As well, plastic surfaces can usually be treated so that cells will stick and form a confluent layer more rapidly compared to what they would on glass. “It is possible to kind of select the options of the different kinds of plastic resins to meet different demands within the life science lab, where glass does not have the flexibility,” says Hamnett.
And plastic technology is continuing to evolve, allowing manufacturers to create products for specific needs offering advantages over glass and over other plastic. Nalge carries a collection of fluoropolymer (Teflon) beakers that you can use for handling hydrofluoric acid, which “basically eats glass,” says Hamnett. The corporation is also trying out exposing a higher-density polyethylene resin to fluorine gas to generate a micro-thin layer, or “skin,” of fluorine, producing a surface that features a chemical resistance similar to Teflon’s, but is less costly. Nalge also has just introduced a disposable bottle made of the same material as plastic soda pop bottles–polyethylene terephthalate (PET). “PET can be a resin that has gas barrier properties which can be crucial in cell biology, where media has to be kept in a container which will minimize CO2 exchange,” says Hamnett.
But even while plastic displaces glass, new lab procedures along with a growing conservation ethic are cutting into the usage of both materials. Automation and improved analytical instrumentation–often requiring small samples–have reduced the interest in laboratory glassware, as outlined by LaGrotte. “In the past, a scientist or perhaps a technician would do lots of things yourself, using different types of lab glassware,” he says. “Now there are many instruments that you simply feed samples to, and so they do every one of the analysis or mixing or whatever might have been performed by hand.”
While both glassware and Skeleton model now manufacture items, including small sample vials, especially for automated use, Hamnett says that the lowering of the quantity of glassware used for classic wet chemistry has been so great that the increase in automation-related items is not enough to balance it all out. Though glassware and plasticware items are now available both in reusable and disposable forms, Stanley Pine, professor of chemistry at California 36dexnpky University, L . A ., advocates reusing even disposable items. “I’m looking to teach everybody we don’t live in a disposable world anymore,” says Pine. “Plenty of this plastic items that was once looked at as disposable probably should be cleaned and reused.”
“Cheap” utilized to mean “disposable,” Pine says. While a reusable glass pipette might cost $10, a pipette designed to be disposable–made from thinner glass, with calibrations that happen to be painted on as an alternative to etched in–might sell for just $1. The producer would argue that it’s cheaper to get rid of the disposable items than to deal with them and wash them, he explains. “But many people inside the academic labs have realized many of the items that is made to be disposable is really pretty good,” Pine says. “You can use it, by way of example, in a lot of our undergraduate classes. While it doesn’t last for twenty years, it may go on for five years, and it’s probably economically advantageous.”