If you are going to get your meals, you may already have a set of cold compresses. Filled with jelly, these plastic bags do a great job of keeping perishable foods cool. But what do you do with cold packs after unpacking?
Many people have turned to meal subscription services for a variety of reasons, including COVID-19 safety measures, convenience, and portion control. Although these services range from providing fully cooked meals to providing ingredients and recipes so you can cook the meal yourself, they all have one thing in common: many ingredients must be refrigerated to keep them fresh. Gel packs, which stay frozen longer than ice, are a popular solution for food delivery services.
Consisting of thick, airtight plastic bags filled with refreezable gel, the packages are handy and reusable. But what if you already have more than you can use? Can you recycle it?
Know your local recycling regulations
Most food delivery companies provide instructions on how to dispose of their packaging. A few of them even offer a return program – which is ideal. Closing the waste loop and holding the company accountable for its waste is a best sustainability practice. If you can return the packaging to the company, take full advantage of that option!
Otherwise, study the disposal instructions provided with an open mind. The company may have good intentions but recycling requirements and availability vary by location. Learn how your local recycling program works and follow your local recycling guidelines.
But before you turn to recycling, consider the reusability and recycling of cold bags.
Reuse and donate
Almost all meal delivery companies tell you to reuse their freezer bags for personal use. This is fine if you are just an occasional customer. We could all use a few cold packs to fill our freezer space. The appliance works harder to cool the air than already frozen items, so filling empty space in your freezer is a good practice to reduce your energy use.
Maybe you can reuse one of these bags as an ice pack for when a young child gets hurt or when you have a headache or backache. It’s great to use in the cooler when you’re packing food. However, if you are getting meals out weekly, your freezer will fill up with cold bags quickly.
You can also pass these cold packs on to non-profit organizations. Ask around at your local food bank, churches, schools, preschools, Meals on Wheels, and any other organization near you that prepares and transports food. While this may relieve you of excess cold packs for the time being, it is likely that this will not be sustainable and you will get excess again after a few months.
What do you do with Goo
Before recycling the bag, the gel must be discarded. Many meal delivery companies direct you to dump the frozen goop into their cold packs. I say try letting them air dry first to take up less space in the landfill. Spill the contents of the bag onto a baking sheet and let it dry overnight, then put it in the trash.
Although the meal delivery company may suggest that you dump the liquid down the drain, it’s not a good idea. Solid waste areas discourage this practice and may clog drains.
Some companies say you may be able to use the contents of the liquid as a plant fertilizer. This looks very cool but be wary of it unless you find out exactly what the contents are. If the manufacturer’s name is printed on the package, you can try contacting them to order the ingredients. But if you get no response and decide to try it anyway, I recommend diluting the gunk with water and trying it on a plant I’m not too fond of as an experiment. Otherwise, cold compress gel is not recyclable, so dispose of it in the trash.
Cold bag recycling
Good news: The plastic bag is more likely to be recyclable. In most cases, the wrap or envelope of the liquid cooling package is a thick plastic film. After removing the contents, cut the bag on two or three sides to dry completely before dropping it off at your regular plastic film recycling site.
Most grocery stores, large retail chains, and major hardware stores offer locations where you can drop off plastic film and bags for recycling. The bags are not recyclable in most municipal pickup programs.
Recycling cold packs is also a great option. Consider what you can do with the can when it’s not frozen. Maybe you need some padding while packing or need something squishy between those delicate stored items in the attic? The packages can be covered with comfortable material and used by a small dog as a bed (but do not use as a pillow for cats, large dogs or people as the packages will burst). Ask the children you know if their dolls use a trampoline or a water bed. Action figures may make use of squishy sandbags during combat.
Express your concerns about packaging
The waste from meal delivery services is often high. We encourage you to press your food delivery service to take responsibility for the cold packs and other packaging waste they produce. If enough customers voice their concerns, it can make a difference.
Photos provided by Maureen Wise. This article was originally published on December 21, 2020.