As mail-order prescriptions and home meal delivery services increase in popularity, some people have a new problem: leftover ice packs that keep the packages cold.
To keep food fresh and ensure that medicines such as insulin remain effective, shipments often include ice packs. If you get your prescription monthly or your food each week, it won’t be long before you have enough ice packs to build an igloo.
What to do? The gel inside the ice packs is nontoxic, so throwing them away is technically an option. But in this eco-friendly environment, in which restaurants are ditching plastic straws and composting is cool, there are ways to save the ice packs from a landfill.
One possibility: Donate them to a food bank.
The Dispatch reached out to a number of Columbus-area food banks. While some said they hadn’t been offered ice packs as a donation, Dana Krull, food pantry coordinator at Holy Family Soup Kitchen, said they would be appreciated.
Krull said if his pantry received them, they could be included with the meat or other perishables it distributes.
"Generally, we take what we’re donated and then try to find a use for it," Krull said. The number of packs accepted would depend on available freezer space, he said.
Columbus Public Health also would accept ice pack donations to help with its outreach efforts, according to spokeswoman Kelli Newman Myers.
The ice packs can be recycled, but that requires a little extra work, said Greg Montgomery, national sales director for IntegriTemp, one of the country’s leading "cold chain" shipping suppliers.
The first step is removing the gel from the plastic. It can go in a trash can (not down the sink; it will clog), but Montgomery said another option is to pour it into a bowl or on a tray.
The gel will shrink as it dries, Montgomery said, so this added step before disposal reduces the impact on the waste stream.
That leaves recyclable plastic — except it can’t go into a curbside can. It’s a specialized kind of plastic, the same type used for grocery bags, so it has to go to a designated recycling location.
More than 100 places across central Ohio accept the plastic, according to an online database from the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio.
Those locations — mostly grocery stores and other retailers — are part of SWACO’s "Bring Me Back" program. While that initiative mainly targets plastic bags, Kyle O’Keefe, SWACO’s director of innovation and programs, said plastic from ice packs is accepted.
Returning the ice packs to a pharmacy most likely isn’t an option, said Robert Weber, administrator of pharmacy services at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
The issue is quality control. Pharmacies monitor everything that’s packaged alongside medicine, Weber said, and there’s no way to know where a donated ice pack has been.
With about 40 ice packs in his freezer from medicine shipments, John Myers, 58 of Powell, was among those wondering what to do with them. He uses them in lunches he packs for his wife and to refrigerate the homemade cookie dough he sends his daughter in Nashville.
He knew he had too many, but he kept them because he didn’t want to be wasteful and, until recently, he didn’t know what his other options were.
"I’m going to max out my freezer here soon," he said.