Chemical Disposal in Science Labs


The University of Waterloo is closely connected with the surrounding community of Kitchener-Waterloo. Everything that is poured down the drain affects both the campus' water and the Region of Waterloo's water. Yet, if this is the case, why are people continuing to pour chemicals down the drain regardless of the amount? We are going to focus our attention on the educational system with respect to the science labs of both undergraduate and graduate students. We want to find the root of the perceived lack of broad knowledge about the safe disposal of chemicals. Additionally, we want to examine the varying tolerance levels of different actors with respect to the volume of chemicals being disposed of unsafely.


There are two systems at work in this case. There is the physical water system and the human system. We will be focussing on the human system. Within this system, there are three sub-systems:

The human chemical disposal system encompasses several actors:

The Safety Office

(Kevin Stewart, Director; Angelo Graham and Ian Fraser, Safety Co-ordinators; )

The Safety Office is reponsible for encouraging the safe disposal of chemicals on campus through educational seminars (WHMIS). The point of view of the Safety Office is that the disposal of chemicals on campus down drains has decreasd significantly in recent years because of a reduction in the amount of chemicals purchased and the construction of a Hazardous Materials Handling Facility. They do not believe that a significant problem exists because if any chemical are being poured down drains, they will be diluted by a large amount of wastewater. However, the Safety Office has no concrete proof that all chemicals are being disposed of properly on campus.

Patti Cook, UW Waste Management Co-ordinator

Ms. Cook has reason to believe, because of previous ERS 285 reports, that chemicals continue to be improperly and unlawfully disposed of on campus.

Plant Operations

The department is responsible for the maintenance of the physical water system on campus. We are unsure of their position on chemical disposal at this time.

Science Professors and Teaching Assistants

These groups are authority figures who are responsible for imparting their theoretical knowledge to their students as well as instilling responsible lab habits. Through our survey, we hope to determine their perspectives.

Science Students (Undergraduate and Graduate)

Even though the students may often be the perpetrators of improper chemical disposal, they can be considered innocently ignorant. Often, students do not possess sufficient awareness about the hazards of this subject and do not realize the consequences of their actions.

Region of Waterloo

The Region is in charge of treating the wastewater produced by the University and removing any chemicals that are present. Although the Waterloo wastewater treatment plant is not presently concerned about chemicals in the water system, the Region plans to test the University's wastewater this summer.


The criteria we will be using to evaluate this system is the level of environmental responsibility of the actors by measuring attitudes and awareness. By obtaining this infomation, we hope to determine areas where greater public education in necessary. At UW, we want students to learn and take with them to the workplace responsible chemical disposal practices. Environmentally-responsible attitudes are necessary precursors to a sustainable campus.


Our key contact people will be Patti Cook (UW Waste Management Co-ordinator), representatives from the UW Safety Office, and a representative from the Chemistry Department (as yet undetermined).


Our audit will consist of a set of surveys distributed to undergraduate students, graduate students, and teaching assistants in the Faculty of Science. The survey will be brief, user-friendly, and help us to gauge campus attitudes about chemical disposal.