The obvious differences between glass and plastic laboratory equipment are that glass is breakable and plastic will not break. Plastic can melt under high temperatures. However, there are other disadvantages as well as advantages to both glass and plastic bottles. Choosing one or the other depends on the needs in the laboratory and the institution’s budget for laboratory equipment.
The tendency for glass bottles to break is a big disadvantage in a laboratory setting. Bottles that break can expose workers to toxic chemicals, carcinogens, biological or radioactive hazards. This is a common occurrence in washing and preparation areas of the lab. While breaking lab glass is a hazard, it is also an advantage over plastic because lab glass can often be repaired by companies that specialize in laboratory glassware repair. The malleability of glass makes it easier for laboratories to have glass designed for specific purposes. Plastic does not have this flexibility of customization, except for in the new field of print on demand, 3D labware.
Another advantage of glass bottles over plastic bottles is that solvents, that can dissolve plastics, are safely contained in glassware. Plastic is also gas-permeable and this is a disadvantage when a lab workers or scientists are working with chemicals that can become gas. Materials that can oxidize are more safely stored in glass containers. Glass is also easier to sterilize than plastic, which is important when lab workers are handling potential biological hazards.
An advantage of plastic labware and specifically plastic bottles, besides not being breakable, is that plastic bottles are physically flexible and can be used for squeeze bottles where this is necessary in the laboratory environment. The cost of plastic bottles is usually cheaper and labs can justify using these in experiments where equipment should be discarded such as in biological hazard experiments.
The chemical makeup of glass and plastic bottles in regards to not contaminating experiments is important. Plastic labware contains small amounts of stabilizing additives to make the plastic initially moldable with heat stabilizers and antioxidants in the manufacturing that must be present so plastic bottles do not break apart during molding. Other additives can include mold release agents to prevent the plastic labware from sticking to the mold, clarifiers to make the plastic transparent, UV stabilizers to prevent UV rays from damaging the plastic labware, and miscellaneous fillers. The amounts of these chemicals vary by manufacturers and this requires the buyer to be aware of both the quality and the cost of the purchase. This possibility of contamination is true of glassware. However, plastic chemicals that leach tend to be organic contaminants, whereas glass chemicals that leach tend to be inorganic. Contamination, and the type of trace elements in either glass or plastic equipment, needs to be taken into consideration when purchasing labware.
The Wheaton brand has 125 years of expertise in providing their clients with the quality products and services. We design and deliver the most innovative solutions in glassware for your company. Please contact us at 1-800-225-1437 to so we can assist you with your glassware needs.