Earlier this year, I tested out the, a $10 cooler made from recycled wood pulp. Watertight and good for at least a couple of uses, the Recool is an eco-friendly, biodegradable alternative to Styrofoam coolers that clog up landfills. Good pitch, good product.
After publishing, though, I got an email from a California-based company called Vericool. The message in a nutshell: Hey, we make those, too!
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Indeed, there's another eco-friendly disposable cooler on the market, and it's called the Vericool Ohana. Made from recycled plant fiber, the Ohana is reusable, compostable and recyclable, too. That matches the Recool -- Igloo tells CNET that it's fully recyclable despite not having a recycling logo stamped on the product. Igloo adds that it plans to change that soon.
After launching earlier in May, the Ohana is available now as an 18-quart mini-cooler for $5 (the same size as the Recool for half the price) and as a 42-quart full-size cooler for $8. In each case, you're getting a pretty basic little cooler, albeit one with four cup holders and a turtle insignia molded into the lid.
Founded by a former gang member committed to providing employment opportunities to formerly incarcerated individuals who seek a second chance, Vericool cut its teeth making eco-friendly alternatives to Styrofoam packages for businesses who need to ship things at cold temperatures -- mostly meal deliveries and other food shipments. Now, with the Ohana line, the company is hoping to bring its industry-tested green approach to cold storage straight to consumers.
The rub is that Ohana coolers are only available online direct from Vericool -- and that means that you'll need to pay for shipping, too. Rates will vary, but the cost of shipping a single 42-quart Ohana cooler to the CNET Appliances lab here in Louisville, Kentucky, was about $15, bringing the total cost up above $20. The cost to ship a three-pack of coolers was even higher.
Vericool tells me that the Ohana coolers will be available to purchase at retail locations soon, and that "those discussions are going on right now."
Putting it to the test
I was impressed with the 18-quart Igloo Recool -- in our 70-degree test lab, it was able to hold a six-pack of soda at about 40 degrees for about 15 hours using a single, small bag of ice. Though the Ohana is more than twice as big, I was curious to see how it would perform in the same test.
So, with room temperature and humidity locked in to the same levels as before, I loaded the Ohana up with the same 7 pounds of ice and the same six-pack of Diet Coke, with a jar of propylene glycol rigged with a temperature probe standing in for the sixth can. Once I flipped the switch and started the test, that probe would record the temperature every minute and log it into a spreadsheet. After 48 hours, I'd have a good look at how well the Ohana was able to hold the cold.
Here's that data, with the red line representing ambient temperature inside the Ohana and the blue line representing the Recool. The two performed similarly, with the Recool bringing things down just below 40 degrees and the Ohana leveling off just above 40 degrees. After holding those temperatures for just under 15 hours, the two started to slowly warm back up at almost the exact same point in the test, literally within 5 minutes of each other.
And remember -- the Ohana is a bigger cooler, so with the same quantity of ice, it was operating at a moderate handicap here.
One other quick bit of transparency: Early on in the test, I realized that the wider frame of the Ohana meant that the ice was sitting about an inch lower in the cooler than it had in the smaller Recool. So, to keep things as fair as possible, I quickly opened it and took out one of the two wood blocks I was using to elevate my test jar of propylene glycol.
In other words, the jar was initially placed a little too high relative to the ice, and after I lowered it to sit just above the ice line like it had in the Recool, the temperature readings fell to the actual ambient plateau (you can see that double-dip in the graph above). Lab-based testing keeps you on your toes, folks!
So, the test data looks good -- the Ohana can definitely keep your beers cold during your next day-trip to the beach. But what about after? Is it really reusable, or does the melting ice result in a soggy mess?
Fortunately, the Ohana held up great. Like the Recool, I took it outside after the test, dumped the water out, and let it sit in the sun for an hour or so to air-dry. In both cases, the cooler's rigidity held up just fine, and I didn't notice any dissolved bits of wood or plant pulp in the water, either. Once things had dried, each cooler was essentially as good as new, and ready to be used again.
No real surprise there -- Vericool claims that its coolers can hold water for up to 30 days. Whether or not that equates to thirty uses is another question. My next step is probably to wait for a rainy day and let the Ohana sit outside, then update this post to let you know how it holds up.
Styrofoam takes forever to break down, which makes it a real problem for the environment. To that end, the more coolers like this, the better, I say -- especially when they come for $10 or less.
It's just a shame that you'll currently end up paying more for shipping than you will for the Ohana itself. I think it's worth it if you need something a little bigger than the Recool, but otherwise, I'd probably wait for the thing to show up at my local gas station or convenience store. Here's hoping Vericool makes that happen soon, as cooler season is already well under way.
Originally published May 25
Update, May 29: Updated to indicate that the Igloo Recool is recyclable.