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9 Ways to Reuse Single-Use Containers

Don’t buy all the fancy zero-waste gadgets and gizmos. There are so many ways to repurpose things we already have and buy anyway. Read on for 9 ways to reuse single-use containers and products to reduce your waste and save money.

This post is part of a Single Use Reuse series that focuses on easy and effective tips and tricks to reuse items intended for single use.

Condiment Containers To Propagate Succulents

A little over a year ago, I subscribed to Succulent Studio and received two tiny succulents each month. After killing most of them in the first few months, I have managed to care for most of them lately. I’m finally getting a chance to propagate new plants with leaves from more mature succulents. 

Propagation works best in small containers when the leaves are so tiny. I love this idea from Sarah of Sustainable In The Suburbs to repurpose takeout sauce containers to grow new succulents. Isn’t it such a great idea?! 

Take Out Containers To Gift Homemade Treats

If you can get your takeout in a reusable container you already own, that’s great. However, there are plenty of times when it’s not a readily available option. Some plastic takeout containers are pretty sturdy and high quality. Recently, I received takeout from a local sushi restaurant in containers that were dishwasher-safe! 

These types of containers are perfect for food storage and as gifting containers. They’re plenty strong enough to hold truffles or cookies or leftovers from a gathering, but simple enough that I don’t mind if I don’t get them back. 

I don’t keep a ton of these containers on hand. I have a few so I’m always ready to share leftovers with guests. I do, however, like to stock up a bit more if we are planning to share holiday treats with neighbors or friends.

Cardboard Boxes As Shelf And Drawer Organizers

I love tearing up cardboard boxes to add to my beloved compost pile. Before they end up in the compost, however, they can often continue to serve their calling as containers in many ways. Forgo buying plastic tubs and bins and use cardboard boxes to organize your cabinets and drawers instead. We use a variety of boxes whenever we might otherwise use a bin.

Boxes for things like cell phones and headphones are often very sturdy and great for desk drawer storage. They are small enough to separate things like pens and pencils and also usually not very tall so they fit in a drawer quite well.

On a few occasions, we wrap a couple of layers of duct tape around the four sides of the box to make it a little bit stronger and last longer. Then we remove the duct tape when we no longer need the box so we can still compost the cardboard.

Plastic Grocery Bags For Anything!

It’s still stunning to me how many plastic grocery bags we collectively consume. Reusable grocery bags feel so much sturdier and more functional to me, but most shoppers still rely on the flimsy plastic bags provided by the store.

Don’t throw away plastic bags. Save them and reuse them for things like passing along items through a Buy Nothing group or selling items on Facebook Marketplace. Contactless pickup is popular for Buy Nothing and Facebook Marketplace transactions, so it’s great to put the item in a plastic bag when you leave it for pickup for the recipient. 

It might seem obvious to reuse a plastic bag as a plastic bag. But we throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year just in the United States?! At least give those plastic bags a second or third life before tossing them.

Plastic Containers To Gift Treats

We reuse glass jars like it’s going out of style. Only recently, however, did I start reusing plastic containers as well. Plastic never feels quite as “fancy” in our cabinets but these types of containers are perfect for passing along leftovers and gifting treats. 

Repurposed plastic containers are also a great food storage alternative for families with young children who are at risk of breaking glass jars and bottles. Despite its faults, plastic has some really great qualities (like a propensity to be dropped without breaking) which is precisely why it’s so popular. Repurposing plastic jars and containers is a great way to take advantage of the benefits of plastic without creating more demand for virgin plastic consumption.

In this case, a friend gave us some delicious cookies in a repurposed dishwasher tablet box. Be sure to clean it out well so you’re not eating the cleaning product remnants. But with a little scrub, it was a perfect cookie container!

Plastic Containers For DIY Sugar Scrub

Sugar scrub is such an easy DIY that saves a ton of money and reduces serious waste while also making showers a little more decadent. I make this DIY shower scrub regularly and reuse this plastic container each time.

The plastic container originally came from a sugar scrub I bought at Target at least 15 years ago. Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down, so I’m zero percent surprised that the container is still going strong.

I don’t like having glass containers in the shower for obvious reasons, so this plastic reusable alternative is just perfect.

Spice Jars For Bulk or Homemade Dried Spices

Don’t buy any special containers for bulk-purchased or homemade dried spices if you already have spice containers in your drawer. The most zero-waste things you can use are the things you already have. Use up the existing spices and reuse plastic or glass spice containers if you decide to start purchasing spices without individual containers. 

As I use up spices in a container, I’ve been saving the glass containers and removing the labels. I recently found a store that sells bulk spices near me and can’t wait to try it out. I also gave away some of the jars I’d saved to a fellow member of my local Buy Nothing group who wanted to use them to store the dried spices she made from her garden. 

Shampoo Bottles for Bulk Refills or Bath Toys

I’ve never been a fan of standard bath toys for kids. We received a few as gifts but always tossed them not long after receiving them. I especially dislike the toys that spit water because they usually develop gross black gunk inside of them over time. 

Instead of paying for bath toys, our boys used things we already had around the house. Their favorite toys continue to be old shampoo bottles that they refill with water, squirt all over the walls, and use to create pretend concoctions. They always had a few plastic bowls and spoons from the kitchen to go along with the plastic bottles, which made for plenty of opportunities for imaginative water play. 

Egg Cartons For Paint Trays

Paperboard egg cartons can be composted (so long as they aren’t covered in paint or non-organic materials). But they can also make great paint trays. Plastic egg cartons are even better paint trays if those are what is available to you at the market. Reusing egg cartons for paint palettes is a great way to make the most of an egg carton that would have otherwise been tossed in the trash after a single use. 

Jen Panaro

Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and advocate for sustainable living for modern families. To find her latest work, subscribe to her newsletter, Stepping Stones.

In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.

You can find more of her work at Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.

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