UPDATED: 03/29/11 | Originally Published: 09/13/10
You bring your own shopping totes to the supermarket, pack your lunches in reusable plastic containers, and sip drinks from reusable water bottles. Kudos! If, though — while saving the environment one reusable at a time — you notice a simultaneous buildup in kitchen clutter, don't despair. Follow our tips to make savvier buying, keeping, storing, and yes, disposing, choices for your common reusables. Out with the clutter, and in with a cleaner green lifestyle!
Reusable Shopping BagsBuy Wisely: Pick bags made of lightweight material, such as nylon or polyester, that can be easily folded or rolled into a compact size. Bags with built-in snaps, ties, or buttons that can hold the tote rolled-up, such as Envirosax, are great; many other styles come with a little pouch that can easily get lost. Rolled-up, lightweight, and compact bags will take up less space, and can also be easily carried in your purse or briefcase.
Take Control: Use your bulkiest tote as a holder, filling it with all your other reusable bags. Stash it near the door so you won't forget it on your way out to the store, or perhaps even on your garage door doorknob, if it won't be in the way there. Better yet, keep all or several of your reusable totes in the trunk of your car (again, all tucked into one of the bulkier bags) so that they'll be handy for unplanned trips. You can also buy or make a plastic grocery bag holder; if most of your totes are lightweight nylon, they'll fit just as easily as disposable bags.
Food Storage ContainersBuy Wisely: You probably have a motley assortment of containers of all shapes and sizes that are made of different materials or from different brands. One way to begin to control the clutter is to stick with one type or brand of container, as lids are more likely to be interchangeable even with various sizes of the same shape. Make sure that your containers do everything you need them to do; otherwise you won't end up using them, and they'll just take up space. For instance, not all food storage containers are microwave-, dishwasher-, and freezer-safe — if you want them to be more versatile, you can invest in containers made of a more durable material, like glass.
Take Control: Dedicate a drawer or a cabinet to your containers, and only keep as many as you actually need. Plan to keep roughly one week's worth of containers — think about what you'd use for lunches and leftovers over the course of just seven days. Make it a habit to bring emptied containers home from work the same day you use them, and to throw away past-their-prime leftovers, so that you can reuse those containers sooner. Once you have your week's worth, add just a few used and cleaned tub-and-lid sets— these are great for sending home leftovers, because then you won't have to worry about getting the container back.
Keep all of the lids organized by shape and size, stored on their sides (rather than stacked flat) in a plastic tub or other separator, so you can lift one out of the cabinet without knocking over a whole stack. For the rest of your containers, nest similar shapes together.. If you have tiny containers, such as for baby food or condiments, put them all together in a larger container or in a large zip-top bag. If you have the space, a dish drying rack is also handy for keeping container lids upright and orderly.
Water Bottles and Thermal Travel MugsBuy Wisely: Choose water bottles that will be easy to clean — i.e., those that have wide mouths, spouts, lids, or straws that separate from the bottle, and few crevices where gunk can collect. Containers with clips or rings will be easier to store and transport.
Take Control: Avoid the tendency to collect water bottles and travel mugs every time you see a new style or a cheap price — if you have too many, it's tempting to just leave unwashed ones in the car or at your desk. Instead, keep just one or two for each person who uses them, and be scrupulous about washing them — if they start acquiring a musty odor, you can freshen them with a scrubbing of baking powder, or even fizzy denture cleaners.
There are a few ways to organize these awkwardly sized containers. If you have the space, consider screwing some large hooks into the underside of a cabinet or along a wall in your pantry, and then hang bottles from those hooks by their handles or clips. Similarly, you could also hang any linked chain or rope from the ceiling of a pantry, and hook your water bottles onto the links. If you're low on space or don't have bottles with their own clips, you might consider purchasing a wire unit that hangs beneath a cabinet or pantry shelf, and laying the bottles flat in that space.
If your reusables collection requires some purging in addition to some reorganization, consider donating extras that are still in working condition to Goodwill or a local shelter. If the reusables are really no longer reusable, that's the time to get rid of them — check if food storage containers or water bottles are recyclable in your local community, and consider converting the old totes to rags, or maybe even placemats.