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ice pack cropped squareReduce, Reuse, Recycle. We’re all familiar with this adage from the 1970s environmental movement. On our campus, UAB Sustainability is always on the lookout to find innovative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle materials.

“The saying ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is often misinterpreted as all three actions being equal – we really want to emphasize that these actions are in this order for a reason: if you have too much of something that would otherwise end up in a landfill, find another use for that item by reusing it before trying to recycle it,” said Nick Ciancio, sustainability coordinator.

One initiative has helped find another use for the many ice packs that are used in deliveries to UAB’s research laboratories. Through the UAB Green Labs program, the ice packs are collected and sent to the Market at Pepper Place and other organizations. 

The ice packs UAB receives are like ones you may have seen in meal kit delivery services. They are convenient and can stay cold for days, unlike regular ice, which is why they are a good option for keeping items cold during transport. UAB Green Labs collects 200 pounds of ice packs monthly from participating green labs.

“Labs are often the biggest energy consumers and waste generators on our campus,” Ciancio said. “The Green Labs program is crucial to finding solutions to reduce the amount of energy and water used and to divert waste from the landfill.”

Because UAB green lab participants had a steady supply of packs without another use for them, Green Labs took the reins and found a solution. Emily Colpack, intern for Green Labs, said the team brainstormed about who would need the packs and reached out to several local groups. At this point, the Market at Pepper Place, Meals on Wheels, and Grace Klein have received ice packs through the initiative.  

“These organizations had been buying or making ice packs and we are so glad that not only did we find a way to reuse these ice packs, but these ice packs are replacing a previously bought item,” Colpack said.

Through the partnership with the Market at Pepper Place, local farmers are able to deliver perishable items to their customers.

"In addition to some using the ice packs in delivery boxes, most of the farmers and food producers selling at the Market use the packs in their coolers on Saturday morning. It gets so hot during the summer months. The packs help keep eggs and produce items cool,” said Lisa Beasley, market manager. "Having free ice packs to use has saved our farmers and food producers lots of money. I can't tell you how many of them have emailed me to say, 'thank you!' and tell me how much they appreciate UAB's commitment to recycling and supporting the local food community. It's a win-win!"

Meals on Wheels depends on the ice packs from UAB to help keep the milk cold while volunteers are delivering, using 3 to 5 ice packs per cooler bag. The organization provides 950 frozen meals and 250 hot meals to homebound seniors in Jefferson County each week.

“We are so thankful for this donation, which allows us to keep food in temperature and also not have to worry about the cost of the supply," said Natalie Zoghby, program assistant at Meals on Wheels.

If your lab wants to take part in this reuse program, reach out to UAB Green Labs at greenlabs@uab.edu.