Recycling is great, but reusing is even better: It saves energy, prevents pollution, and reduces waste. And while I try to recycle as much of my plastic waste as possible, I’m also trying to find ways of giving it a longer life before sending it to the recycling bin.
Here are just a few fun ways I’ve been able to put plastic to good reuse around my house.
1. Make the most of the peanut butter jar
I think we can all agree that cleaning out a peanut butter jar is one of the most tedious aspects of recycling. But it’s a worthwhile task, as food residue that remains on recyclable containers ends up contaminating paper recycling, often causing it to be landfilled. Not to mention, there’s the immediate benefit of getting more peanut butter! Your not-quite-emptied PB jar, can be used to make salad dressing, overnight oats, and other tasty treats, to get the most out of your purchase before you finally scrub out the jar and put it in your bin.
2. Make a self-watering planter
Old buckets, water bottles (from liter sizes to 5-gallon water-cooler bottles), or large plastic yogurt tubs, can all be used to construct self-watering planters. The idea is that there’s a refillable reservoir underneath for water, which plants can wick up as needed. You can even make them more visually appealing by painting them with craft paint or wrapping them with string or yarn, hot-glued into place.
3. Grow seedlings or plant cuttings
Small yogurt containers — especially the 4-ounce size that kids’ yogurts come in — are also great for gardeners. They can be used to grow seedlings or propagate plant cuttings. Punch holes in the bottom for drainage, and use a plastic container lid as a coaster to catch drips.
4. Organize the fridge with clear produce containers
The clear, hard-plastic containers that are used to package salad mix, berries, and other produce are just the right size to organize loose items in the fridge. I use them to hold blocks of cheese or bundles of herbs loosely wrapped in damp paper towels to keep them fresh. They also make right-sized containers for storing washed and cut-up fruit and vegetables for healthy, grab-and-go snacks.
5. Stash plastic bags in the car for trash
If your kids are like mine, they can trash a car in about 2 days flat. By the end of a weekend, the back seat will be littered with crumpled napkins, toy packaging, papers from school, and other detritus. Since I can’t seem to escape collecting a few plastic bags, I keep a few in my car to use as trash bags — even produce bags or the plastic-film packaging around paper towel rolls will work. You can even keep two separate bags: One for trash, and one to collect recyclables that you can then bring inside to sort into your curbside bin.
6. Give cereal bags new life
A Recyclebank reader deserves credit for giving me the idea that I can reuse the sturdy plastic that encloses cereal inside its box. Those bags aren’t always recyclable, but it’s easy enough to shake out the cereal crumbs and use them for other things. Cut open, they can take place of waxed paper or plastic wrap to wrap a sandwich or a wedge of cheese. They’re also great for crushing items like crackers to make crumbs, or for marinating meat or fish: Combine the marinade ingredients in the bag, add your meat or fish, roll up the top, and use a chip clip to seal it.
7. Save foam meat trays for crafting
Foamed polystyrene trays are typically not accepted in curbside programs, although many supermarkets have collection bins where you can drop them off for recycling. In the meantime, these little trays (cleaned well, of course!) are ideal for craft projects. Use as a paint palette, to hold beads for a jewelry-making project, or as a surface for working with modeling clay.
With a little creativity, there are many ways that we can reuse disposable containers, packaging, and other plastic waste before it heads to the recycling. I hope I’ve inspired you to take a look at your plastic waste with new eyes!