Digging Deep Into Options to Address the Mountain of Ice Packs University Research Labs Receive

Helina Ayalew, University of Colorado Boulder

Each year, the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) receives about 6000 ice packs with cold shipments totaling two tons of waste. The CU Green Labs Program has been working to find an environmentally friendly solution to this chronic ice pack waste issue faced by our campus and faced by other research institutions nationally and internationally. We receive frequent requests from lab members at CU Boulder as well as other institutions about what to do with this waste stream. Many scientists and the sustainability community want to address this chronic ice pack issue. Currently, all of the ice packs received by labs at CU Boulder continue to be thrown away. We would like to find a better, more sustainable solution. In an effort to address the ice pack waste stream, CU Green Labs has adapted a multi-pronged approach to explore options for recycling or reuse. We have or are in the process of:

  • Contacting other institutions to learn what they are doing or have done to tackle this problem
  • Reaching out to individual manufactures in order to determine the components of the gel in the ice packs and learn their suggested disposal method
  • Working with our EH&S and city waste water to determine if the contents of ice packs can be disposed of down the drain followed by recycling of the plastic pouch, as suggested by some ice pack companies
  • Working with our EH&S and local companies to determine if it is feasible to setup a program where ice packs are re-used.
  • Reaching out to companies shipping these materials to our campus to discuss the need for extended producer responsibility from their companies and their plans to establish take-back programs or ways to sustainability dispose ice packs
  • Possibly organizing a group interested in working together to address this issue

This presentation will discuss the results of these approaches and share some of the valuable insights CU Green Labs has gained in our objective to solve the ice pack issue.

Learning Objectives

  • Learn about why scientists and the sustainability community find recycling or reusing ice packs challenging
  • Learn what other institutions are doing or have attempted to do to solve this problem
  • Learn about what manufactures recommend for sustainably disposing of ice packs
  • Learn the results of CU Green Lab's multi-prong approach to find a solution to this issue


Helina Ayalew is a recent graduate with a degree in Biochemistry from University of Colorado Boulder. She has been working with Kathy Ramirez-Aguilar and the CU Green Labs Program as a student assistant for four years. As a student assistant, Helina worked on reducing energy consumption, solid waste production, and water use in research labs on campus.


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