During the past decade, colleges and universities throughout the United States have found themselves grappling with an increasingly nettlesome problem: how, in a cost-effective way, to get rid of the hazardous waste material generated by their labs.

Although academic labs account for a tiny fraction of the hazardous wastes produced nationwide--probably less than 1 percent--they must abide by the same stringent regulations as those imposed upon the industrial plants that produce most of the other 99 percent. To make matters worse, while an industrial plant may produce large quantities of a dozen or so different substances, an academic lab typically produces hundreds--or even thousands--of different waste products, some in quantities as small as a gram. Although commercial disposal firms make their money hauling away waste by the truckload, most of them cannot--or simply don't want to--deal with such a small and complex waste stream.

Federal regulations hold the institution or...

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