The passing of the coat: Science student launches project to reuse lab coats

Image of Isaac Begun sitting in the lab with his lab coat on smiling for a picture

Second-year Integrated Science student Isaac Begun has launched ReCoat with a grant from the McMaster Okanagan Office of Health & Well-being. Students finishing their last labs can now hand off their lab coats to students about to the start their first labs.

Isaac Begun is in the Campus Store, ready to shell out $34.99 for the official and ubiquitous McMaster-branded white lab coat.

But there are no lab coats left in stock: The overseas supplier ran into supply chain issues.

Now Begun’s out of luck — and time. He needs a lab coat before his first lab class. No coat, no class.

Begun reaches out to a freshly minted science grad who he knows from high school in Toronto. Did you hang on to your old lab coat, Begun asks. And can I borrow it?

The grad does Begun a solid: He gives him his old lab coat, to keep for the next four years.

That gets him thinking: What if students leaving their last labs gave their coat to students heading into their first labs?

Most coats are only worn a couple dozen times and wind up buried in closets — or worse, landfills.

They can’t double as pajamas and there’s only so many Halloween parties where you can dress up as a scientist.

The hand-off would be a win for the environment and for budget-conscious and cash-strapped students. It could also become a McMaster tradition, a literal passing of the lab coat rather than of a torch.

Begun has never worked on a sustainability project. He wasn’t that kid in kindergarten who starts a program to recycle juice boxes.

So he signs up for Sustain 1S03. That’s where he gets a crash course in circular economics: A system where materials and products — like gently used lab coats — get reused and regenerated.

The course gives Begun the know-how and confidence to work through details of how to launch his idea.

And then he sees an Instagram post from the McMaster Okanagan Office of Health & Well-being, inviting students, faculty and staff to apply for special project funding.

Why not give it a try, he thinks. Begun pitches his idea and is awarded a $4,000 grant.

The grant turns what could’ve been a small pilot project on a shoestring budget into a campus-wide initiative called ReCoat.

The funding will cover cleaning costs and the coats will now be free to students.

Begun also launches an online ReCoat pledge that’ll give students gentle reminders to donate their lab coats for a chance to win gift cards or AirPods.

It’s early days for ReCoat and the response has already been amazing, says Begun.

Dozens of lab coats have been donated not just by students but also by faculty and alumni.

“Everyone says it’s such an obvious idea and why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?”

Begun’s not afraid to reach out and ask for help. The Dean’s Office has been making introductions and connections. The student-run McMaster Science Society’s on board and happy to spread the word about ReCoat to the more than 8,000 undergrads in the Faculty of Science. The Bachelor of Health Science Society is looking to follow suit.

Drop your lab coat off at:

  • The MSS Office in B108 in the Burke Science Building,
  • ABB 133,
  • Thode Library
  • The BHSc Office in MDCL 3300.

Thode Library will also have free one-day loaners available starting in September for students who forget to pack their lab coats before rushing off to class.

The bonus for Begun? He’s only in his second year at Mac. Most students roll out big projects in their final year and don’t get to see their ideas gain traction and bear fruit. “I get to spend two more years working on ReCoat.”

Begun’s already looking at what else can be added to the circular economy at McMaster. Lab goggles and calculators are a possibility. It all depends on what students are asking for.

“Once you start thinking about circular economics, you see opportunities everywhere.”

Related Stories