Tips for Recycling: How can I reuse my Styrofoam cooler?


Styrofoam Coolers

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If you’ve ever used a mail order or internet service to purchase perishable items, you’ve probably been the recipient of a lovely Styrofoam box which held your steaks, cheeses, gourmet chocolate …whatever. So what do you do with it after it has served its original purpose?

If you’re lucky (?) enough to live near a facility that recycles Styrofoam then that’s an option. But the process of breaking down polystyrene releases a lot of nasty chemicals and many industry professionals claim that recycling it is actually more harmful than good. The trash is always an option, but we all know how bad Styrofoam is for the environment. Besides, we’re not talking about a flimsy convenience store model here. These coolers have walls 2 ½ to 3 inches thick and they’re sturdy enough to hold some serious weight. So how can we put these Styrofoam superstructures to good use?

Now, I know some of the more committed ‘greenies’ out there are wagging their fingers at me because 1, we shouldn’t be purchasing from companies that use Styrofoam for packing and shipping, and 2, we should be buying our food locally. True enough. The fact remains that there are some readers who either received one of these boxes as a gift or who actually made the eco-faux pas of purchasing one themselves. To help these poor misguided souls atone for their sins I have come up with some creative ways to repurpose the evil Styrofoam cooler.

  1. Keep it in the trunk of your car for shopping trips. Put your frozen and refrigerated items in it on the ride home. It can keep your ice cream from turning into a soupy milkshake on a hot day, or buy you a few extra minutes to run another errand before that salmon you bought starts taking it’s stinky revenge.
  2. Use it as a container to store your other recyclables. These coolers are approximately the same size as an 18 gallon recycling bin, so they’re easy to transport and hold quite a bit of material. If you have a curbside service that requires you to provide your own bins they work great for that too. Just make sure you label them so the hauler doesn’t take your Styrofoam box along with its contents!
  3. Decorate it and use it for a toy box for a kid’s room. Let your kids have fun coloring or painting it.  You can even use some colored duct tape to make a fabric hinge to keep the lid on.
  4. My step-mother used one to send me a bunch of perennials for my flower garden for Mother’s Day. The plants arrived at my home in great shape after a five day journey via the postal system. They were well hydrated and fresh. No wilting!
  5. This one is my personal favorite…Heavy duty Styrofoam coolers make great outdoor housing for your small pets. I live in a northern climate with cold winters. I had a kitty that lacked the house manners to be allowed to live indoors, so to make myself feel better about banishing her to the outdoors I took one of these coolers and made her a house. I cut a small hole for a door, stocked the inside with old towels and sealed the top of the cooler onto the bottom with duct tape. My cat took to it right away, even using it in the summer. If you want to get really fancy you can add a pet heating pad (make sure you use one specifically designed for pets with low wattage or you may roast your pet). They work great for other outdoor pets like rabbits or chickens as well.
  6. Vermicomposters can use it to make a worm bin to get rid of kitchen scraps. Fishermen can use it to make a worm farm for their own supply of high quality bait, or use it for a tackle box that also keeps the bait alive.
  7. Use it to store your off season clothes like sweaters and woolens. They’ll stay fresh and moth-free.
  8. For college kids or those on a tight budget you can cover or decorate them and use them as cheap end tables, coffee tables or ottomans. Pluse they’ve got built-in storage!
  9. Ask your kids for ideas. They come up with great ways to repurpose almost anything!
  10. Of course, if all else fails, you can always use it as a cooler!

Have other ideas for how to repurpose a Styrofoam cooler? Feel free to post your ideas in the comments section.

Got something to add? Feel free to chime in!

  1. I was seriously looking for an ecofriendly answer to this product that unfortunately my medication is shipped ( no matter whom I contact to try and get an alternative shipping method). BUT I was Horrified by #5!!!! Did I actually read that your FAVORITE was making a pet house and putting your cat in it because you did not deem your pet “house worthy”? SHAME ON YOU!!!! I spent hours last night deciding whether I should respond to this absurd idea and decided if I DID respond perhaps I could save one pet from your RIDICULOUS and ABUSIVE tip!

    • If providing an animal that no one else wanted with a home with a special heating pad designed for pet housings, a heated water dish, plenty of food, everything kept in the garage to keep her out of the elements, veterinary care and plenty of attention is abuse, then I’m guilty as charged. Frankly after progressing from peeing in the house incessantly to peeing on my husband while he was in bed asleep, she was pretty lucky.
      By the way, I have a 4 year degree in Animal Science and I used to be a veterinary assistant. I have cared for many pets, both housed indoor and out. Trust me, the vast majority of dogs and cats, save a few oddball breeds, are supremely adapted to outdoor life. Remember, there was a time before animals were domesticated.

      Long and short…get a grip! There are a lot of animals out there who are either too wild or too destructive or too sanitary to live in a house. I’m not going to feel guilty about recommending a way to provide shelter for them.

      • If you are going to justify keeping animals in a styrofoam cooler because you have an Animal Science degree that is SAD! I actually have my Masters in Education PLUS more grad classes above that! My degree does not make me an expert in animal behavior ( especially how long it has been since some animals became domesticated – I choose not to live like in centuries older than this one). I will continue to look for other websites that offer REAL solutions for these coolers and hope that your domesticated animals might actually not have to get used to their “outdoor living” and find loving homes. Pity your parents when THEY start peeing in the house… hopefully they will make bigger coolers!

    • Maybe it’s a ferel cat she is talking about. How absurd of you to jump to conclusions just because she is not living life the same as you.

  2. My local UPS store gladly takes all of my packing materials, including these styrofoam coolers used for shipping. They reuse it all!

  3. I use mine to put all the frozen food in while I defrost my freezers or clean out my fridge. Stuff stays frozen for hours.
    I’ve also used sheets of it to “line” the inside of my van to keep it warm in winter and even cool in summer.