Plastic is sometimes chosen over glass because it is less expensive. For your glass industry, it has had negative consequences: As demand drops, prices have had to increase. But, unlike disposable plastics, glass could be reused. And although higher than the price of a similar plastic item, the price tag on a reusable glass item is diminished with every use. “Convenience carries a price,” says Nicoll. “Per-use price is typically higher for any disposable in comparison to a reusable product, even with figuring in washing and preparation costs.”
Some companies have realized a niche in the region of specialty glass. Scientists to whom a resident glassblower (see accompanying story) is not available can change to specialty Centrifuge with their creative ideas for laboratory glassware. Cal-Glass’s Cheatley recalls once being asked to make glass hearts–not components of jewelry, but true replicas of human hearts through which medical researchers could practice placing catheters.
Bellco now offers specialty glass items. Sometimes, says Nicoll, products which are specially designed for just one scientist turn out to get universal appeal to make their way into Bellco’s catalog. “However,” says Nicoll, “it appears that when specialty markets grow into a certain level to have an item, somebody comes along and helps make the item from plastic.” Lots of the more creative requests that Bellco has filled remain a secret–they arose from scientist customers within the pharmaceutical industry and therefore are proprietary.
Cheatley is looking for new markets to overcome competition brought on by plastics and automation. The organization recently introduced an all-glass photochemical treatment system known as the EcoStill, which extracts silver from spent photochemicals. As the stills are targeted primarily for usage within the photoprocessing industry, Cheatley expects these to prove beneficial in biological labs as a substitute for evaporators. Unlike standard evaporators, the EcoStill, an enclosed system, will not produce fumes, says Cheatley. And, he adds, the glass EcoStill is impervious for the chemicals that will damage standard stainless-steel photochemical processors.
But sometimes glass just can’t perform the job. For instance, “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 often manufactured from plastic as they are quicker to handle.
In recent years, plastics happen to be developed with most of the properties where glass is valued. For example, polymethylpentene is definitely a clear plastic with optical qualities nearly similar to glass. Polymethylpentene is additionally autoclavable, which is useful for beakers, graduated cylinders, funnels, flasks, and many other things traditionally made of glass. Another clear plastic immune to high temperatures is polycarbonate. Bel-Art markets a polycarbonate vacuum desiccator, accustomed to remove moisture from the sample. A plastic desiccator has several positive aspects over the traditional glass apparatus, says George McClure, an engineer and senior corporate v . p . of the company. Glass desiccators has to be quite heavy to prevent implosion from atmospheric air pressure, a potentially dangerous accident. The polycarbonate might be taken to a total vacuum without danger of implosion, and won’t crack or chip if it is dropped. The plastic desiccator is much less expensive than glass, McClure adds.
Plastic wasn’t always intended to supplant glass, however. About four decades ago, the initial product of Rochester, N.Y.-based Nalge Co. was a plastic pipette jar. Nalge’s founder, Emanuel Goldberg, was really a manufacturer’s representative selling pipettes, and several of his customers complained that whenever they dropped their glass pipettes in the stainless-steel storage jar, the information broke.
A chemist by training, Goldberg welded plastic bottoms to lengths of plastic pipe. “So, ironically, the very first plastic merchandise that Nalge made was built to avoid glass pipettes from breaking,” says Gordon Hamnett, national accounts manager for Nalge. “Subsequently, the company developed lots of products which were designed because glass products were breaking. We designed a line of beakers, graduated cylinders, and volumetric flasks, modeled very much right after the original glass benchware which was available commercially.” Today, about 25 % of Nalge’s plastic merchandise is disposable; the rest are made to be reusable.
The need for Pipette in the life science market continues to grow over the last decade, according to Hamnett. For uses in cell biology labs, some plastics are already created to be inert than glass, preventing cells from staying on the top. At the same time, plastic surfaces can be treated to ensure that cells will stick and form a confluent layer more rapidly compared to what they would on glass. “You can type of choose the options of your different kinds of plastic resins to fulfill different demands inside the life science lab, where glass lacks the flexibility,” says Hamnett.
And plastic technology is continuing to evolve, allowing manufacturers to help make products for specific needs that offer advantages over glass and also over other kinds of plastic. Nalge carries a line of fluoropolymer (Teflon) beakers which you can use for handling hydrofluoric acid, which “basically eats glass,” says Hamnett. The business is also tinkering with exposing a high-density polyethylene resin to fluorine gas to create a micro-thin layer, or “skin,” of fluorine, resulting in a surface that includes a chemical resistance just like 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 is a resin which has gas barrier properties which can be essential in cell biology, where media needs to be stored in a container which will minimize CO2 exchange,” says Hamnett.
But even while plastic displaces glass, new lab procedures plus a growing conservation ethic are cutting into using both materials. Automation and improved analytical instrumentation–often requiring really small samples–have reduced the interest in laboratory glassware, according to LaGrotte. “In the past, a scientist or possibly a technician would do a lot of things manually, using different kinds of lab glassware,” he says. “Now there are various instruments that you just feed samples to, and they do all the analysis or mixing or whatever would have been performed by hand.”
While both glassware and filter paper now manufacture items, like small sample vials, particularly for automated use, Hamnett says that the decrease in the quantity of glassware utilized for classic wet chemistry continues to be so excellent that the rise in automation-related items is not enough to balance it out. Though glassware and plasticware items are now available in reusable and disposable forms, Stanley Pine, professor of chemistry at California 36dexnpky University, Los Angeles, advocates reusing even disposable items. “I’m trying to teach everybody we don’t are living in a disposable world anymore,” says Pine. “A lot of this plastic items that was previously thought of as disposable probably must be cleaned and reused.”
“Cheap” employed to mean “disposable,” Pine says. While a reusable glass pipette might cost $10, a pipette built to be disposable–created from thinner glass, with calibrations which are painted on rather than etched in–might sell for only $1. The producer would reason that it’s cheaper to discard the disposable items than to manage them and wash them, he explains. “But many people in the academic labs have found most of the stuff that was created to become disposable is actually pretty decent,” Pine says. “It can be used, for instance, in many our undergraduate classes. Though it doesn’t last for 20 years, it may possibly work for 5 years, and it’s probably economically advantageous.”