Finding fresh use for laboratory waste

The Neuro’s Green Lab Initiative is donating ice packs and coolers to local non-profits
Two Neuro lab members stand next to a pallet of Styrofoam containers and ice packs destined for Moisson Montreal, a local non-profit.
Theresa Degenhard and Philip Thorne with a pallet of supplies for Moisson Montreal.

If you work in a lab and have ever felt overwhelmed by the waste created by the procurement of laboratory samples, you’re not alone.

That’s how Philip Thorne and Theresa Degenhard, two researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital (The Neuro), felt about the ice packs and Styrofoam coolers being delivered along with their test tubes.

“When I receive a Styrofoam box with one 50 microlitre tube and seven or eight ice packs, it is just the most frustrating thing,” says Thorne. “Some of it gets reused. But we can’t reuse everything we get, and the rest goes into the trash.”

Inspired to do more

Thorne, a Laboratory Technician, and Degenhard, a PhD Candidate, are members of The Neuro’s Green Lab Initiative, which aims to make the institute’s research labs more sustainable. After participating in the Freezer Challenge and in the Sustainable Lab Certification program, they were looking to do more.

“I saw we were collecting a lot of ice packs and thought, ‘what can we do?’” Inspired by an article about a UBC professor who’d tackled the same problem by donating them to a local company, Thorne set out to do the same.

He started out by contacting food delivery companies, but those discussions didn’t get very far. He had more luck with food banks: Moisson Montreal picked up a year’s worth of ice packs and Styrofoam containers, and Mission Bon Accueil accepted supplies as well. Encouraged by their success, Thorne and Degenhard are now hoping to expand their operations.

“This project exemplifies how McGill lab users can have a positive impact in their own labs and beyond,” says Francois Miller, Executive Director of Sustainability. It’s just one of several initiatives across campus collaborating with the McGill Office of Sustainability to reduce waste in labs.

“We just had a meeting with Centraide, and our next big one will be with the Food Banks of Quebec,” says Thorne. “I think there’s a lot of places that could use these supplies: organizations that feed the food insecure, deliver meals to the elderly, and help the community at large. It’s just a matter of reaching out and setting up the infrastructure.”

Future plans

A lab member at The Neuro next to Styrofoam coolers to be picked up by Mission Bon Accueil
Philip Thorne prepares supplies for Mission Bon Accueil.

Thorne has contacted several lab suppliers in hopes of reducing the amount of waste they produce, but change has been slow to come.

In the meantime, The Neuro’s Green Lab Initiatives team will be growing their collection efforts. They’re planning to launch a friendly competition among The Neuro’s pavilions to see how many ice packs they can collect in time for Earth Day on April 22.

“That’s step one in expanding beyond The Neuro,” says Thorne. “That way we can prove there’s a steady supply coming in that we can effectively distribute to the community.”

Eventually, they’d like to get participation from all 2,100 of McGill’s laboratories and keep growing from there.

“My ideal goal would be to start here at the Neuro, build into McGill, and then reach out to other universities in Montreal and across Quebec,” says Thorne. If we can combine our power and put these supplies to secondary and tertiary use, we can stem the tide of waste coming in and help our communities at the same time.”

Anyone with questions about the initiative can contact the GLI: Green Labs Initiative

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4 months ago

Wonderful initiative Phil and Theresa

4 months ago

Can other labs drop off ice packs and the like, and if so, where? I’m in the Duff.

4 months ago
Reply to  Heidi

Hi Heidi, That is a good question. I suggest you contact the GLI: Green Labs Initiative

4 months ago

Nice article. what was missing is any information on how to join this effort. who to contact. where to send our Styrofoam and ice packs? We’re in the Neuro and we don’t know how to join this campaign.

Danièle MacKinnon
4 months ago

Amazing initiative! And yes to seeing it grow across Quebec!