Hippo-Brindabella-web620-Victoria Zoo
We saved 2 tonnes of ice packs from landfill, the equivalent of one hippopotamus.  image credit: Zoos Victoria

When 8 million tonnes of plastic is entering the ocean each year and 27 soccer fields worth of the world’s forests is being lost every minute, it may seem like being “sustainable” is far from reach. While it may be true that human activities are threatening the world as we know it, it’s not true that we aren’t doing anything about it.

Around the world, countries are developing solutions to cope with these non-linear issues. I would like to highlight in this blog post one of the efforts made during my short time here at the UHN to combine the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainability –to try and find that sweet spot.

Well, I guess I should start by introducing myself and what I do here. My name is Rachel (a third year UWaterloo Biology student) and I am the current sustainability co-op student. Aside from the shut the sash program, which has continued to be an excellent energy (and cost) saving program, I have worked on the ice pack recycling program. Every week our research labs at UHN receive hundreds of frozen ice packs in order to keep perishables at their required temperatures. Most of these end up in landfill waste, or worse … biohazard bins! That literally means burning ice. A much better solution is to send them back to the vendor so they can be reused.

rachel-Accepted Ice pack signage

The thing is, new ice packs are cheap, and recycling ice packs takes effort and coordination (which means cost). This is an example of when companies have to look beyond just the economic benefit of sustainability. Sometimes the main driver is social responsibility … companies must be responsible for the waste they create, as that has a major effect on the environment. During my term, there have been many ups and downs with this program. In the end, after ironing out all the wrinkles, we have a fairly stable take back program with New England Biolabs (NEB), Cedarlane, and FroggaBio.

Below is a graph of all the ice packs sent back to date (excluding the NEB ones since they have an even more robust program that takes back all of the packaging including ice packs). From January to mid August, over two tonnes of ice packs were returned to vendors and diverted from landfill!


We saved over 2 tonnes of ice packs from landfill – the equivalent of 1 Hippopotamus!

This program is an excellent case of how when someone is willing to push for change and to find that sweet spot, companies can care for all three aspects of sustainability and great things can happen.