Researchers are a thrifty bunch. This characteristic is exemplified by their willingness to collect broken equipment and scrap it for parts with the hope of extending the life of their primary instruments. Sometimes the good intention is only that and results in a collection of odds and ends that clutter valuable space both in their labs and at their desks. The Research Laboratory Services team at the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower who supports research operations put together a pilot project, Clear the Clutter, with the goal of creating a cleaner, safer and more efficient working space for all researchers in the tower. This project offered researchers the opportunity to have broken equipment properly disposed of, have unused equipment offered up to fellow labs, and offer direction to create a safer working environment.

When labs run out of linear space, they instinctively start vertically storing items. Items stored in an unstable stack or overhead space create the risk of injury to the user. Over 420,000 incidents occur on an annual basis in Ontario where workers are hurt by falling objects or attempting to access items unsafely stored (WSIB, 2020). By providing researchers the outlet to have materials disposed or rehomed, this project helped create a safer working environment for all.

To kick off the project, flyers with some fun puns were posted and shared with the labs at PMCRT to encourage participation. Following the launch of this project in early June, researchers were thrilled with the opportunity to participate in this project and came out of the gate with lots of questions. Will you take these old freezer racks? This piece of equipment still works but our work no longer requires it, is there another lab that could use it? Will you take any large equipment? The answer is always YES! Labs with functional equipment were encouraged to use our swap shelf to help extend the life of the unit. We also found labs who had consumables for equipment they no longer had were able to share supplies with fellow labs thus creating valuable space in their own spaces. One lab’s trash is another lab’s treasure!

When researchers had materials that were at the end of life or broken, they were encouraged to drop off these items at their nearest disposal bin. At the end of June, all materials collected at the tower were sorted for valuable materials and sent to the appropriate processing facility. We are pleased to report that almost 5,000KG (~11,000 pounds) of metals, scrap and recyclable materials were sorted and processed as part of this project! Given the success of this pilot, it has been approved for annual renewal and expanded to include other research sites. As a result

Looking back on the project and the items collected, we encourage all researchers to review their current space for opportunities to create a safer and clutter-free environment. Review the materials in your space to determine when they were last used, how critical each item is, if there are any opportunities to share niche items with neighbouring labs to reduce clutter and if it is time to let go of that dusty piece of equipment that you one day hoped to bring back to life. Thank you to all the researchers and labs who participated in this project.