Don’t Throw It Away! How to Re-Use Old Food Containers

Guest post from Anne Simpson

Do you ever feel like you just throw away too much trash? I know my husband does when he has to lug the bag of trash all the way down three flights of stairs and half a block away! Our modern generation – despite attempts to “green” our lives – is far too quick to dump anything and everything into the circular file without first considering if it can be used again. Despite the catch-phrase of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, we still throw a lot of junk into the trash.

Sometimes the problem is simply that repurposing or upcycling household trash can seem like a daunting prospect, particularly if you think you’re not all that creative or crafty. I’m here to tell you, though, while a browse through Pinterest might wear you out with all those cute upcycling projects (Trust me, I know, I have my own  Repurposing board.), it doesn’t take any time or ingenuity to put all those jars, boxes and cans to work instead of chucking them into the dumpster. Sometimes, I don’t even bother with removing the label; I just clean out the jar and put it back to work.

To get you started, here are a few of the uses I’ve found for a variety of common household containers:

  1. Giveaway Buckets 

I always keep a stack of plastic containers in my cupboard for a variety of purposes. They make perfect give-away containers for those occasions when you fix a meal for a friend, or want to pass along some yummy baked goods. Your friends will appreciate now having to wash and return them to you! They’re also perfect for random assortments of leftovers that have no other home. They’re not great for freezing, since they’re not typically made with an exceptionally high quality plastic. In the same token, I wouldn’t recommend microwaving them either.

  1. Candy Containers

In the forefront of the picture, you see an old formula can with the label removed. I just wrote on it with a Sharpie (on the other side) to label it – no fancy artwork needed here! I hide it in the cupboard to stash all the candy that is given to my son (by people who don’t live with him). Whenever we feel like rewarding him with a special treat, we sneak it from this inconspicuous container.

  1. Junk Drawer Organizers

Head to a container store, and you’ll see a slew of pricey products designed to help you organize your junk drawer. No need to shell out the cash! I’ve got a couple of round re-usable Ziploc containers that lost their lids and put them to beneficial use rounding up a bunch of things like shoe-laces, pencil sharpeners, tape, and the like – things that would otherwise be rolling around loose on the bottom of the drawer. The rectangular plastic container is from toy-packaging, believe it or not. It’s the perfect container for all the packs of gum my husband goes through on a regular basis!

  1. A Homemade Find-It Game

You can use any old jar to create one of these; I used a plastic canned fruit container. All you do is drop in some small objects of interest to your child (e.g.: a Lego guy, a small car, a plastic tree, a button, and a marble). Then fill it almost to the top with rice. Spread a little glue (hot glue works wonderfully) around the rim of the mouth of the jar, then screw the lid on tight. You can decorate it with a ribbon around the lid of the jar if you desire, but you don’t have to. We brought ours with us on our vacation last year as an activity for our son to play on the looooooonnnggg car ride.

  1. Dried Goods Jars

You can’t re-use the majority of store-bought glass jars for canning because the glass is not stable, and the lids are not safe for processing. However, they are perfect for storing dried goods, like nuts and dried fruits and vegetables! I love to store the things I’ve dehydrated in jars like these. In the picture above, you’ll see some dried-orange zest in a baby food jar, pistachios in a salsa jar, dried peppers in a jam jar, and dried kale leaves in a peanut butter jar.

  1. Manipulatives Storage

Counting bears find a home in an enormous applesauce jar (I think it must have come from Costco!) Letter tiles get comfy in an old sunflower seed butter jar; and letter stamps reside in – of all things – a small jar that previously held a sugar body scrub.  As you can see, I did some slight decorating here, but only because these jars are out in the open and visible by all.

  1. Granola Tin

make my own granola, and I keep this old coffee tin on hand to store it. This kills two birds with one stone: it eliminates the need to throw away empty boxes from store-bought granola, and it keeps the coffee tin from ending up in the landfill. A win all around.

  1. Collection of Jars

You don’t have to have a specific use in mind for a container. I keep a handful of them in my cupboard below the sink to use as ready storage for left-overs, or for homemade sauces and the like. Occasionally, one of these under-the-ink jars will find another, more permanent home elsewhere around the house.

  1. Yogurt “Cups”

My yogurt machine has containers with screw-top lids, but I get a little annoyed by all those small glass jars tumbling around the refrigerator. Instead, I dump all the yogurt (yet another attempt to create rice milk yogurt pictured here) into one of those glass jars I mentioned from under the sink.

  1. Craft Containers

I did make a little extra effort decorating this old oatmeal canister, but it was worth it. I use it to store my small collection of rubber stamps. Similar containers (including rectangular ones that formerly held cocoa) have been used for other crafty supplies, like glue sticks, for example.

  1. Ribbon Scraps Confinement

I have a hard time throwing away those little scraps of ribbon that are still long enough to tie a bow, but not much else. In truth, I have a problem throwing anything away. But I also hate leaving them lying around,getting tangled and making a mess. A baby food jar is the perfect size to confine all those confounded little pieces of ribbon – it’s small so that I don’t have to dig through heaps of knotted strands in order to grab the one I need. It’s clear, so I can see  at a glance if a jar contains the color I need.

These uses are mostly utilitarian, but you can dress-up your old containers. This past Christmas, I had a lot of fun transforming old formula canisters and even egg containers into lovely gift-giving receptacles. Use them any time of the year with seasonal papers and ribbons.

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  1. says

    Great ideas! One year I saved empty peanut butter jars for months so that at Christmas I could fill them with candy, a small craft, and mini-coloring sheets telling the Christmas story. I also tied a Christmas pencil to the outside with ribbon. Every kid in my extended family got one. Recently I’ve been saving glass jars with decent lids for dry goods. Also, tuna cans are the perfect size for biscuit cutters. Recycling is a great option too since I find more containers come in than go out.

    • AnneSimpson says

      Great idea with the peanut butter jars! Peanut butter jars are the perfect size for lots of things; I find I save them more than any other. Well, actually mine are sun butter jars, but you know what I mean:)

  2. says

    All great ideas. I save salsa and pickle jars and use them for scrapbook storage (they stack beautifully!). We save the large peanut butter jars (BJs) for garage storage, teacher gifts, and game pieces. Any any glass jar can be prettied up with a bow and gift tag for a vase of flowers (and no need to worry about not getting it back!).

  3. says

    What great ideas! I really liked your use for tupperware that has lost its lid and the “find-it” game. I also never knew that formula canisters were that pretty underneath. I have some sample containers I’ve never used, and this looks like a great way to repurpose them.

    • AnneSimpson says

      Yes, the Enfamil ones I have are a lovely silver color underneath! At Christmas time, i had fun covering them up with scrapbook paper – they have lots of uses!

  4. says

    Wonderful ideas!! I love reusing anything I can. Last summer I actually reorganized my husbands garage “junk drawers &boxes” using coffee cans, baby food jars, etc so that he isn’t constantly searching through drawers full of everything mixed together (screws, nuts, bolts, etc)! He was so surprised when he got home from work and it is still organized to this day :)

  5. says

    I have a stack of used containers I use and re-use. My favorite thing to use my containers for is making ready-to-use mixes. So, when I am making my pizza dough (or whatever), I take out some clean containers and measure out the dry ingredients for a few more batches. It saves me time and energy because I am already measuring out stuff, and I am dirtying up measuring cups and spoons once. This week, I decided to pre-measure what I would need for the rest of the month for my pizza dough. Now all I have to do is get my yeast ready, and I’m most of the way there.


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