Skip the Disposable Foam Coolers this Summer

Warm weather means days by the water, at the park, and in the woods. Wherever you recreate, you need to keep your snacks and beverages cool and fresh. The convenient choice is a foam cooler: they’re inexpensive and available at most grocery stores. However — like many convenient choices — foam coolers are not great for the planet.

The Popularity of Disposable Foam Coolers

In the 1950s, foam became a favorite for keeping hot things hot and cold things cold. People started using foam coolers because of convenience and affordability. Foam coolers also don’t grow mold or bacteria. To top it off, they’re disposable so you throw them in the trash when you’re done! Perfect solution, right? Unfortunately they have a major drawback — lots of non-recyclable waste after just a few uses.

The Ugly, Indisposable Truth

Disposable is a funny word. By some estimates it takes up to 500 years or more for foam to biodegrade. One common estimate is that styrofoam can take up 30 percent of the space in some landfills. It’s also estimated that at least 20 percent of foam ends up as litter. The breakdown process is ugly, too. Foam breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that can choke wildlife. As the sun heats it up, it emits toxic chemicals like methane.

Other Cool-er Options

Invest in a reusable cooler!

  • Basic foam cooler with hard plastic exterior and interior: an inexpensive option
  • Metal or durable plastic cooler: have it forever
  • Soft cooler: wear it over your shoulder
  • Backpack cooler: free up your hands and carry it farther

When you know which type you’d like to purchase, check to see if you can buy used on Craigslist or at a thrift store. If buying new, look for quality durable products that will last. Many coolers have lifetime guarantees.

If you need a disposable cooler, there are biodegradable pulp-based coolers for one-time use. They’re convenient and sustainable. Put them in the mixed organic waste, or compost at home, and they decompose in weeks!

What if I Already Have a Foam Cooler?

Use any foam cooler you do have until you can’t anymore. Then dispose of it in the Trash.