For more than fifty years, Styrofoam coolers have been a staple at beach parties, fishing trips and tailgates.
These coolers were designed as an inexpensive, temporary solution for keeping drinks cool when a permanent cooler was unavailable or unaffordable.
On May 1, Igloo, one of the largest cooler retailers in the world, finally decided to take a step into 21st century sustainability with the launch of their new 100% biodegradable Recool coolers.
Igloo’s choice to replace their Styrofoam cooler with a biodegradable one is a decision that should be cheered. Of course this environmentally conscious decision was the result of extrinsic pressure placed on companies to develop eco-friendly solutions for their products. A growing coalition of cities, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, have begun instituting Styrofoam bans.
This growing pressure and Igloo’s decision to launch a sustainable solution could not have happened a moment too soon.
Styrofoam is the trademarked name for polystyrene foam insulation. Invented by Dow Chemical in 1941, Styrofoam is a lightweight, water-resistant, and buoyant material that at the time seemed to be the universal solution for insulation. Today Styrofoam is frequently used in craftwork, egg cartons, coffee cups, packing peanuts and, of course, coolers.
By eliminating their use of Styrofoam, Igloo is putting a serious dent into the 14 million tons of Styrofoam products produced worldwide every year (3 million in the U.S. alone). Of those millions of tons of Styrofoam, very little is ever recycled. The vast majority of recycling centers reject Styrofoam because it costs $3,000 per ton of polystyrene, which, unfortunately, makes the landfill the only option.
Whether in a landfill or in water, it is estimated that it takes 500 years for Styrofoam to decompose.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 80% of Styrofoam ends up in landfills, and much of the remaining 20% makes its way to waterways where fish and turtles mistake it for food as it floats across the surface. Eating Styrofoam can kill them because it is composed of fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals. Whether in a landfill or in water, it is estimated that it takes 500 years for Styrofoam to decompose.
I decided I wanted to try this new cooler out for myself to see if it could actually keep drinks cold. My twins’ upcoming birthday party was the perfect opportunity.
I went to Target in search of the cooler. News of its release had appeared in several publications, so I anticipated finding it front and center of the store in preparation for the upcoming fourth of July. It was far from front and center.
Instead the cooler was at the very back of the store on the highest shelf. It seems like my local Target store wasn’t as excited about it as I was. When I say highest shelf, I mean I had to do a little climbing to reach it.
The cooler appeared to be made of the exact same material as a temporary litter box I bought when I fostered a kitten. The best way to describe it is a sturdy, rough, cardboard type material, but it is certainly thicker than cardboard and does not get harmed by being wet.
Igloo says that the material is recycled tree pulp, with a binding agent. On the top of the cooler, there are notches that serve as cupholders to hold four drinks. Even though I had read online that this was a $10 cooler, it only cost $7.99 at my local store.
The sticker on the cooler made some bold claims about its design that I was excited to test out, namely that it can retain ice for up to 12 hours and remain water-resistant for five days. This capability allows the cooler to be reused over and over after it is dried out.
A really noticeable change about the cooler is that you do not have to deal with that annoying squeaky Styrofoam noise.
“It is designed to take some rough and tumble — it won’t chip or break when bumped or dropped like commonly happens [sic] with foam coolers, and best of all, no annoying squeaking noises, ever,” the Igloo website claims. “It’s your silent partner in crime.”
When it came time for the party, I filled it with about 20 drinks just as the sticker had claimed, and I topped it with ice. It was easy for me to carry, and it did not leak, spill or become damaged at all by being wet. It has a natural looking texture to it, so it was noticeably different to party guests from any other cooler they had seen.
Though the ice did not keep from melting for 12 hours, the melted water within the cooler was still cold 12 hours later. After I poured the cold water out, it was as good as new when I tucked it into the pantry.
I wanted to toss it into my composter to see if it would decompose, so I did just that. Although it was quite sturdy when it held my drinks, the cooler was easy to break apart. I tossed it in, and for the first week it repelled water so well that I thought it would never degrade.
Eventually, however, it gave in to the power of nature. Exactly one month later, I happily discovered that it was unrecognizable and genuinely biodegradable.
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