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5

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

 

Styrofoam Coolers

Image courtesy of mynjgarden.com

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.

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