Many people use dry ice in their homes when there is an emergency, or when they need an even cooler environment. However, if you do that, you need to know how to dispose of dry ice, because it’s a dangerous element to work with. Make sure you never store it in air-tight containers, otherwise you will trap the dangerous gas that it produces inside. This is the most dangerous part of the whole process – the gas that this ice produces, so let’s see how to properly get rid of it.
What is dry ice?
Known as dry ice, solidified carbon dioxide is mostly used to freeze food or to keep stuff colder for longer than usual, thanks to the freezing surface temperature of -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit. You can purchase dry ice at some grocery stores or home centers and you will find it in pellets, flakes, or blocks.
You can use dry ice to place it in packages and coolers for a chilling effect, but you can also use it to flash-freeze food. It’s generally a good backup if you are afraid that the power might go out and you want to preserve the food in your fridge.
Although it has certain benefits, dry ice can be dangerous. If you touch it with your bare skin it will induce mild to severe frostbites, depending on how long you touch it. It generally takes seconds for the frostbite to set in, that’s how cold dry ice is. Solidified carbon dioxide goes through a continuous process of evaporation (it sublimates), and when doing this it continuously releases carbon dioxide.
If you contain all the dry ice and its gas releases in a tight container, you will risk an explosion that can hurt people and damage objects around it. Furthermore, allowing the dry ice to evaporate in an enclosed room, the air in that room will get filled with toxic gas and people will suffer from accidental suffocation.
While some people are aware that precise safety measures need to be followed when using dry ice, others don’t put too much emphasis on this, because they lack the knowledge. Make sure you’re not amongst these and you always know how to work with dry ice. Knowing how to get rid of dry ice is extremely important if you want to avoid risks.
And so the disposal begins
First and foremost, you need to make sure that you have the proper equipment to dispose of dry ice. The list of things that you need is rather short, and it doesn’t require professional equipment, so that is a big plus. You will need to protect your skin, and for that purpose, you want some long sleeves and long pants. Of course, pay attention to your feet too and get some closed-toe shoes.
Insulated (and pretty thick) gloves are a must – that should help you cover up the most important part of your body in this task. Make sure you also have a lidded plastic container or better, a styrofoam chest. You can also get a respirator, to make things safer, although this is not entirely necessary.
You could divide the task of getting rid of dry ice in 5 easy steps. The first of these is to pick the right place and time. As for many other things, getting this right is essential for a good start. You need to do the job in a really well-ventilated room or space, where children, pets, or unaware people have no access.
A backyard or a fire escape are the best options here. If you want the best results you should also take into account the weather, and a cool and uncloudy day will help you get rid of the ice faster. On the opposite, choosing a humid and warm day will mean that the sublimation process will occur faster and with a greater impact (and you don’t want that).
The second step implies the use of all the gear that you have prepared. Dress for the task – a long sleeve shirt, closed-toe shoes, long pants, and gloves are a must. You can add other layers on top of this if you want. The main idea is to prevent the ice from coming into direct contact with your skin, and most importantly, your eyes.
This is where you need to pay attention
The third step is where things get complicated. Start off by retrieving the dry ice from the fridge shelf, container, or cooler, where it has been stored. It is recommended that you wrap it up in newspaper pages before you place it in there, but now, when you are taking it out, you need to get rid of that newspaper.
Once you set the paper aside, place the ice inside the lidded plastic container or styrofoam chest that you should keep really close. Place the lid, but make sure you don’t secure it completely – you want some isolation, but you should avoid at all costs completely sealing it. You want carbon dioxide to escape into the atmosphere, but not too fast. Doing all of this will help speed up the sublimation process in an environment that you can control.
That is why, for the next step, you mostly have to wait. The fourth step implies that you set the container on a flat surface and you let it sit there for as long as it’s needed for the ice to evaporate. Again, make sure that the place you are doing that in is well-ventilated and people or animals don’t go there.
It will take around 24 hours for 10 pounds of dry ice to evaporate (or sublimate). You should avoid staying in its vicinity in order to avoid high exposure to carbon dioxide. This will cause symptoms like headaches, nausea, and vomiting, so if your experience those, make sure you get to the hospital as soon as possible. But to avoid all of that, you should wear a respirator mask.
The final step will imply that the dry ice has finally evaporated. Once that is done, you need to dispose of the container, as well as the gloves that you have previously used and the newspapers that you had everything wrapped in. You should get rid of the ice at a local collection site or landfill that accepts such hazardous waste products.
Things to avoid
During this whole process, there are some things that you should pay attention to and avoid doing at all costs. You should never touch dry ice with your bare skin, as this will cause severe pain and damage to your skin. Also, you want to keep the objects in your home protected, so don’t lay the ice directly on a solid surface or a countertop, as the extreme cold will most probably crack that surface.
The reason why you need to put a newspaper around the dry ice is that you don’t want to place it alongside unsealed food in the fridge. The ice can freeze food on contact, and if you flash-freeze something like a fish, you should place that item in a dry vacuum-sealed container before placing it next to the ice.
Storing more than 10 pounds of dry ice in your fridge can be dangerous too. As it can still create carbon dioxide, storing more than that will cause the build of excess gas inside the appliance. Another little known thing is that, if you store dry ice in your freezer, you can get the appliance’s temperature too low, and the freezer might malfunction.
Avoid at all costs dumping the dry ice in sewer lines, in the toilet, sink, or anything like that. Besides risking breaking the toilet or the sink, the pipes will be put to a lot of stress, and they will probably burst.
Much on the same page, don’t ever discard the dry ice in trash cans, garbage chutes, or any other usual garbage storing compartment. They are ill-ventilated and when the ice evaporates, carbon dioxide will fill the enclosed space and, if you don’t pay attention, an explosion might occur, or accidental suffocation.
Carbon dioxide is heavier than air and it will go in low-lying areas. If it stays in a room, your animals or little children will get more exposed to it, because they are closer to the ground. You certainly want to avoid that. Much on the same idea, don’t get rid of it in public spaces where people or pets have access.
If you ever need to transport dry ice, do it in a vehicle that has adequate ventilation, for the aforementioned arguments. If that is almost impossible for you, at least open one or more windows when transporting it in your personal car. Either way, avoid transporting it for more than 15 minutes to prevent overexposure to dangerous gases.
One interesting thing about dry ice is that it doesn’t work like regular ice in the sense that it doesn’t melt. Instead of getting from a solid state – ice, to a liquid state – water, it goes directly to the gas state.