Made from polystyrene, “Styrofoam” is actually a brand name owned by the Dow Chemical Company, which created the material in the 1940s. It is used to make everything from packing peanuts and packaging inserts to food containers and disposable cups. Styrofoam is made by expanding polystyrene with millions of air pockets. Because of these air pockets, Styrofoam is actually 97 percent air.
The air trapped inside the material makes it an exceptional insulator. Heat or cold gets stuck inside the air pockets and takes much longer to escape. For this reason, it is commonly used for products like coolers. Styrofoam coolers are available just about everywhere, and they cost only a few bucks. Whether you are picking one up to take on vacation or you’ve received one inside a shipment of perishable foods, don’t throw it away when its original purpose is finished!
Styrofoam isn’t good for the environment, and it takes millions of years to break down in landfills. Instead of contributing to the ever-growing waste problem, consider reusing it.
Here are a few easy ways to reuse your Styrofoam cooler and give it a brand-new life.
Make a Cheap Air Conditioner
An air conditioner made from a Styrofoam cooler won’t cool down your entire home, but it can make smaller areas — like bedrooms — a bit more comfortable. All you need is a Styrofoam cooler, a fan and some PVC pipes with elbows. You’ll also need some type of blade to cut the foam.
First, cut a hole for the fan in the cooler’s lid. The hole should be just large enough for the fan to rest inside without falling through. Cut a few additional holes in the lid for your PVC pipes. You may be able to do this by simply pushing the pipe through. Three or four holes should be sufficient.
Insert a PVC pipe in each hole, and attach an elbow to the end of each. This allows you to adjust the direction of the air blowing out of the cooler. Place the fan in the hole you cut with it pointing downward into the cooler.
Fill the cooler with ice, plug the fan in, and turn it on. The fan forces air over the ice. The cooled air then escapes through the PVC pipes. Replace the ice as needed. The larger your cooler and the more ice you use, the longer the cool air will last before you need a refill.
Use It as a Grocery Holder
Place a Styrofoam cooler or two in your car’s trunk or cargo area. Smaller sizes work especially well for keeping groceries together and preventing them from rolling all over the inside of your vehicle. As a bonus, they’ll help keep your refrigerated and frozen foods safe during warm weather.
Create an Outdoor Cat House
If you have an outside cat or a feral cat community near your home, repurposing an old Styrofoam cooler into an outdoor cat house can provide your feline friend(s) with a safe retreat. Use a sharp knife to cut an opening in the side of the cooler. The opening should be just large enough for an average-sized cat to fit through. Keeping the hole small helps the inside stay warmer. Place an old towel or small blanket in the bottom of the cooler. A heated cat bed is also an option, especially in cold climates. Put the lid on the cooler, and secure it in place using deck screws on all four corners.
Build a Compost Bin
Composting is a great way to recycle kitchen scraps and produce excellent planting soil. By repurposing a Styrofoam cooler as your compost bin, you can make recycling an even bigger part of the overall project. Start by drilling holes in the cooler and the lid. These holes provide ventilation and drainage. Drill several, but not so many that they compromise the structural integrity of the cooler.
Once you’ve drilled the holes, put a layer of dry materials in the cooler. This creates the heat. Next, add a layer of fresh or green material, like kitchen vegetable waste or lawn clippings. Add another layer of dry on top to contain the smell. Any time you add new fresh material, mix it up and add about two cups of water.
Pot Your Plants
While many of the myths about gardening with Styrofoam are untrue, you can use coolers made from the material to pot your plants. Small containers with thick sides work best, and they can be decorated to match any color scheme.
The next time you have a no-longer-needed Styrofoam cooler, don’t throw it away. Reuse it for one of the projects listed above.