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Ask DSM Readers: Do You Reuse Food Containers?

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 7, 2010 · 42 comments

Ask DSM Readers: Do You Reuse Food Containers?Photo by: feresc

Every week I'll pose a question for you to share your experiences and tips. If you have a question that you'd like me to post, I'd love to hear from you!

With five growing kids, we go through a lot of food, and even though we're eliminating a lot of processed food, we still have a lot of trash from the food we do eat -- things like egg cartons, pasta sauce jars, sour cream containers, yogurt cups, cereal boxes and so on. I recycle as much as I can, but I'd love to repurpose some of it too!

Do you repurpose food containers?  Which type of container is your favorite to reuse?  What types of food containers do you reuse as food storage containers?  For craft projects? What else do you use them for?

Join the discussion -- add your two cents to previous Ask DSM Readers questions too!

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cara October 7, 2010 at 11:25 am

I reuse the little orange plastic 9 lives cat food cups for seed starters, and drawer/work bench organization. I also have a couple of those big plastic gallon sized ice cream tubs for keeping bags of sugar or flour safe from bugs, and to organize the lids in the cabinet for reusable plastic storage bowls.


2 Tina Twigs October 7, 2010 at 11:27 am

I love saving butter bowls. They really come in handy when you want to send some food home with someone else and you don't want to worry about if they will return your good bowl.


3 Krista October 7, 2010 at 11:25 pm

I do this, too!! Any containers like sour cream or cottage cheese are great too to take for lunch and then just toss.


4 Michelle October 7, 2010 at 11:36 am

I use egg cartons cut in half (six little cups a piece) to hold paint for the daycare kiddos I take care of. I also use them to hold beads for my 10 year olds jewelery project as she works on it so keep them separated. We take all our butter, sour cream, and other containers like that to our church so that after church dinners people can take part of the food leftovers home with them.
I use velveeta boxes as cheap drawer organizers.
I love to repurpose things.


5 Diana October 7, 2010 at 11:36 am

I use paper egg cartons, dryer lint, and melted candle wax to make fire-starters for my daughter's Girl Scout troop's camping trips.
Empty spice jars are used to hold our homemade dry spice blends to save time on our favorite recipes.


6 LindaB October 7, 2010 at 11:43 am

I save my eggshells. When they are nice and dry (sometimes I just put them in a bowl until the next day) crunch them up and scatter them in with any plants that you have that get slugs or snails on them. Your slug/snail problem will soon end...those slimy things don't like the sharp eggshells that stick to them!


7 Shay October 7, 2010 at 11:48 am

I use emply mini M&M containers (you know - the colorful ones that have the lid attached?) to make a mini office out of a tote bag or back pack. They are perfect to hold safety pins, paper clips, staples, lead refills, etc... etc... You can color code them or I simply stick a label on to identify it.


8 Kyla October 7, 2010 at 11:53 am

We use those to put quarters in. I toss one in the van and then I always have a quarter for those kiddie rides or for my cart at Aldi. They are the perfect size!!


9 Rebecca October 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I filled one of the big ones with quarters for my niece as part of her going to college gift. I know they don't need to use pay phones anymore but she said it was great for vending machines and laundry! It took $13.75 to fill the tall one up!


10 Heather October 8, 2010 at 12:32 am

I wonder if that would work for Chuck E. Cheese tokens too. I'm always trying to figure out a way for my five kids to carry them around more easily. Thanks!


11 Kyla October 7, 2010 at 11:52 am

Sour cream, butter and other plastic containers get saved and used to send leftovers home with someone, paint containers for trimwork, to put nuts and bolts in when assembling something. Peanut butter jars are great for kids 'lanterns', bug catchers and are great to put soup in and freeze. I saved baby food jars from my first baby and make my own food and put into the small jars and freeze for the second. My husband loves those big laundry detergent containers with the spout to put used oil in to use for various farm purposes. We use old mustard bottles as oil squirters for the machinery. Empty Kleenex boxes are great to store toys with small parts.


12 Julie October 7, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Speaking of peanut butter jars - these lids fit exactly a regular mouth canning jar. It will not be water tight, so it will still spill; however, you can recap anything that you have opened but not completely used and store it in the fridge for a day or two.


13 Elizabeth October 7, 2010 at 1:24 pm

What an awesome tip! I hate storing things in plastic, but a plastic lid on a canning jar (for leftovers) is such a great idea!


14 christine October 7, 2010 at 11:54 am

I smiled when I saw the graphic for this question - I use my egg cartons to start seeds! We also use butter/cottage cheese/sour cream etc. containers to send leftovers home with guests.

My favorite re-use is medicine bottles (like advil, aspirin, tylenol) washed out and labels removed for little flower vases. They work great to hold just a few short stems and look really pretty with ribbon or decorative paper on them to give as gifts.


15 Nan October 7, 2010 at 12:14 pm

The sour cream containers work great when sharing plants with my friends and for our church plant swaps. I also use the lids under plants to protect my windowsills.


16 Meg October 7, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I reuse spaghetti sauce jars. Ragu jars get a makeover by spraypainting the lids and putting contact paper-covered scrapbook paper around the jar and a label - perfect for storing tea bags, drink mixes and Boxtops for Education right above my stove. Bertolli sauce jars are nicer looking and I'm collecting them to use as "country-chic" drinking glasses.


17 Kyla October 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm

We have a collection of fruit jars (DelMonte, I believe) that we use as drinking glasses. They keep things colder than thin glass and don't break as easily. Good luck on finishing your collection! :)


18 Ruth Ann October 8, 2010 at 10:31 am

Most of my drinking glasses originally held either peanut butter (Smuckers natural) or salsa (Mrs Renfros...Fort Worth, TX local brand). They're the perfect size for beverages and I've never had one break.


19 Cathy Kramer October 7, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I reuse Glass containers. We use them for our candy jars. We also use them to put dry ingredient mixes in. Add some decorative holiday paper on top, and voila! Instant Christmas gifts!


20 Stacie October 7, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I use an egg carton turned upside down, with small slits on the top of each egg space to hold playing cards for young children whose little hands can't grasp a full hand of cards. Eliminates lots of frustration for them!


21 Sarah October 7, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I save large yogurt containers. Usually when I have a dinner party and the guests take left overs home, they go out in that so I don't have to worry about anyone returning tupperware. Also, large warehouse-style nut containers are great for organizing toys consisting of small parts in my kid's rooms. I LOVE THE EGG CARTON IDEA ABOVE!


22 Sarah October 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Oh, and diaper wipe containers are great for holding markers, crayons, and other school-like supplies.


23 Charlotte October 7, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Awesome idea, thanks! I have ton of these and didn't know what to do with them.


24 Jessica-MomForHim October 10, 2010 at 11:59 am

I use diaper wipe containers to corral plastic bags from stores--you can shove a lot of them in there and it keeps them neat!


25 Tami October 7, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I use plastic jars (peanut butter, parmesan cheese, etc) in the garage to hold nails, screws, and the like. They work great - you can easily see what is in them!


26 Debbye October 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm

We do this too, but to save counter space we nail the lids to the underside of a shelf then screw the jar onto the lid. No jars getting knocked over and rolling around on the floor!


27 Melissa October 7, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Wow, thanks for all the great ideas!


28 Erica M October 7, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I like to use formula cans and wrap scrapbook paper around them to dercorate them and use them for different things. I home school my kids and had them decorate their own can for all their pencils and crayons.


29 rebecca October 7, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I laughed when I saw this since my daughter and I just finished making little alien creatures by turning the Aquapod bottles (FL's big deal the other week) into one eyed monsters with acrylic paint and pipe cleaners coming out of their "head" tops, lol. :D


30 rebecca October 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm

When I was a kid, we used to go to the ice cream shop (usually Baskin Robbins) and ask for the empty cardboard tins. We then wrapped it with papers and made cool garbage cans for our bedrooms. :D


31 Ruth Ann October 8, 2010 at 10:33 am

At my house growing up, we too had a lot of old cardboard ice cream container waste baskets. I had forgotten about that until you mentioned it.


32 Maggie October 7, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I am an art teacher, so I am always using and saving containers. My favorites are baby wipes container for markers, pencils, and crayons. But, I also do a lot of paper mache projects with yogurt cups as the base. If you make a ball out of newspaper, stick it in the top of the container and add wings and feet, it makes for an excellent penguin. :)


33 Jenna October 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I save the big Yoplait yogurt containers for leftovers. My favorite to save are the Classico Pasta Sauce jars. I wash them and reuse them when I make meals for others--fancier soup containers than plastic containers. Love them!


34 Jackie October 7, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I reuse the Simply juice bottles at the office. Instead of keeping a carton of orange juice, apple juice or lemonade (which can be expensive!) in the fridge at wok I buy cheap frozen juice concentrate, mix it up at home and transfer to the Simply juice container and take it to the office. That way I can keep our Rubbermaid pitchers at home where they are safe :)


35 Amber October 7, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Its funny u ask that my husbands family reuses butter containers or anything that comes in plastic and i thought that was so weird cause id never seen that my mom was such a tupperware queen and my grandparents used pyrex, but no i dont reuse if my husband had it his way we would.


36 Nancy October 7, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I reuse sour cream and cottage cheese containers for lunch. Make a pot of crock pot soup, fill the containers with soup and freeze them. In the morning I just grab one for my lunch in the office. Don't worry if something happens to the container, and saves money on meals.


37 Nilufer October 7, 2010 at 6:48 pm

I used empty ziplock bag boxes to organize my "junk drawer" in the kitchen. One for rubberbands, one for batteries, one for pens and pencils.... so I always have a pen handy when I need to write something or a binderclip when I need to close a bag of chips. When I empty a new box of ziplock bags, its time to re-organize my drawer.


38 Michelle October 7, 2010 at 6:51 pm

My kids made a robot for their dad on Father's Day out of these types of things (plastic juice concentrate legs, paper towel tube arms, egg carton head with 12 eyes....). I also use baby wipes tubs for lego sets. The boxes never stay together, but all the pieces from each indvidual set go in their own tub. This way we are able to keep our sets intact and use the mixed bunch for imaginative building.


39 Falguni Rahul October 7, 2010 at 8:23 pm

I use the glass jars from coffee and pasta sauces to store my sugar, tea, lentils and beans. I also use them to freeze extra soup, and curies. The plastic containers from cheese I use to store hardware like nails and screws and extra stuff, tins from soups and tomatoes are used to put my pencils and pens and lastly the yogurt or cheese cups are used to keep leftovers, and the big size ones I collect all my organic trash in to then throw it into my composting bin.


40 vicky October 7, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Awesome tips. I love the picture!


41 Heather October 8, 2010 at 12:50 am

Local community centers, preschools, libraries, schools, churches and the such are often looking for these types of items. I save all of our cardboard tubes, butter containers, Pringles cans and egg cartons for that. My favorite repurposed item, however, are the little plastic stoppers that the Target pharmacy puts in their bottles for children's prescriptions. It takes a little doing getting them out (I usually stick the tip of the dispenser into the hole and pull at an angle until it lifts.) but they fit into most over the counter medicine containers as well. I'm such a fan of using the syringe to dispense medicine I just had to pass this along.


42 Kayla October 8, 2010 at 9:54 am

I save the plastic Crystal Light containers. I pull the wrapper off and you have a tall see through container that you can store anything in. Right now I have one for box tops, one for candy corn, and one for bubble gum. They are also great to take snacks in the car.


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