Plastic can be a difficult material to recycle — many municipalities don’t accept all types of plastics for recycling, and unlike aluminum and glass, it has a limited recycling life.
A lot of plastic containers can have an after-life outside of recycling, though, so I’ve rounded up some of the most common plastic containers from around the house and given thought to some of the best ways to repurpose them and extend their life.
1. Water Bottles: We all know that we should be toting our water in reusable bottles, but of course situations arise when we succumb to the lure of the disposable bottle of water. Here’s how to make up for forgetting your travel bottle:
- Reuse that bottle a couple more times for water or other beverages (it’s not necessarily harmful to your health!).
- Fill 3/4 of the way with water, screw cap on tightly, and freeze, to use as ice packs.
- Fill with sand or beans to use as workout hand weights.
- Fill with water and put in your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used when flushing.
2. Yogurt Containers: Many communities do not accept the #5 plastic yogurt containers are usually made (although you might be able to find programs like Preserve Gimme 5 that collect this plastic). If you can’t recycle your yogurt containers, wash them and use them:
- Make a fruit fly trap: Put a splash of balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar in a cleaned container, add a squirt of dish detergent and water to about 3/4 full. Fruit flies will be attracted to the smell of the vinegar, and the detergent will create a film on the water that will trap them.
- Use to hold water for painting projects.
- Paint or decoupage to use as a pencil cup, decorative planter or dish for spare change, hair accessories or other small items.
- Use as a scoop for pet food or potting soil.
3. Food Tubs: The larger plastic tubs that are used to package cheese spreads, hummus, quarts of yogurt, restaurant take-out, et cetera, can be washed and used for a wide variety of stuff, particularly since they usually come with nice reusable lids:
- Store leftovers for the refrigerator or freezer (just don’t use them to microwave foods, as the plastic is not always microwave-safe).
- Hold small amounts of paint when painting furniture, the walls, or trim — put the lid on to keep the paint from drying out while you’re waiting in between coats.
- Decorate with paint, fill with sand, cover and use as a doorstop.
- Keep in the car to use as a portable dog dish.
4. Milk, Soda and Juice Jugs: Hold onto the big plastic bottles that juice, soda and milk come in. They’re great for a number of things:
- Make a backyard birdfeeder.
- Paint or decoupage and use as a vase.
- Cut off the bottom of a milk jug to use as a scoop for potting soil.
- In the case of a barely-filled refrigerator, fill a few jugs with water and place throughout the refrigerator (a fridge cools most efficiently if it is fairly full.
5. Clamshell Containers: Hold onto those brittle, clear plastic containers that are used for fresh fruit and vegetables or take-out foods:
- Fill with dirt and use as seed starters for your garden next spring. If the bottom has holes in it, line it first with damp newspaper so the soil won’t come out.
- Cut in half, decoupage it inside and out, and use it as a decorative tray to corral odds and ends on a desk or dresser.
- Use it as a disposable palette for squirts of paint for kids’ projects.
- Use to transport picnic foods or to pack meals for a long car ride.
How do you reuse plastic containers? Share your best tips in the comments below.
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When I'm not making lists, I'm taking care of my two daughters, volunteering in my community, and writing articles about food and cooking — I'm the author of three cookbooks: Ramen to the Rescue, Tortillas to the Rescue, and Quinoa Cuisine (co-written with Kelley Sparwasser), and my fourth, Homemade Condiments, will be available in Fall 2013.