One of the best ways to reduce waste in your kitchen is to reuse containers you already have. I like to reuse empty food and drink containers or re-purpose jars and bottles I would have otherwise thrown in the recycling.
Recycling your used glass and plastic food containers is much better than sending them to the dump so if that’s what you’re doing, great job! If you would like to take your eco-friendly kitchen habits a step further, consider using reusing these containers instead of tossing them (even if you’re tossing them into the recycling bin).
You know the slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”? Well those three R’s are actually in order of the greatest importance or impact. Reducing the amount of things we buy in the first place is the best way to lower your ecological footprint. Reducing your consumption of disposable products lowers the amount of natural resources needed to create them and the energy required for its production and transportation. Reusing is the next most helpful for the environment as it keeps those items like used food containers from needing to be processed in a recycling plant. Recycling is a much more environmentally-friendly practice than sending your trash to sit in a dump pile somewhere out of sight, out of mind to slowly break down for many many years.
And before you think that little ole you can’t make a big enough difference by recycling your household waste, remember that is not necessarily our goal here. I encourage you to be content doing your part. My goal here on Earthful Life is to support a healthy balance between living an abundant life and practicing proper stewardship of the Earth. So if you want to do a little bit more than recycling all of your used containers, let me help you come up with creative and practical ways to reuse them instead. Here’s 8 to help you get started…
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Clean and stash your containers.
Once you are done with the original purpose of a food or drink container, wash it and store it in an easily accessible spot like your pantry.
To get the labels off of the glass, soak them in water (I just toss them in with whatever dishes are already soaking to save a little bit of water) for at least two hours. Then scrub the stickers off with a tough scrub brush (I use this dish brush set and love its look and durability. These are similar brushes too). If there is sticky residue from product labels, I have found that using a small amount of coconut oil with just a drop of eucalyptus oil works just as well as Goo Gone.
Above are two pictures of my container collection just one week apart. You can see how my collection changes as I use some containers and also add more to the stash. Once cleaned and stickers are removed, then store them in your pantry where you can easily find them whenever you need a new reusable container option.
#1. Bulk spices in empty spice jars.
If you’ve ever purchased anything from your grocery store’s baking isle (hopefully that’s a yes), there’s a good chance you’ve bought some kind of spice refill in a jar like this. Well, next time you run out of that cumin or garlic powder, think about repurposing the empty spice jar for your next bulk spice purchase.
The granola bar recipe I use calls for ground cardamom. Since I discovered that the cardamom sold in containers is waaay more expensive than buying it in bulk, here you can see that I cleaned out my empty spice jar and decided to give my bulk spice a permanent container. Unfortunately I had to buy this plastic bag of the spice because I bought it during the pandemic so I was not allowed to use any reusable container to fill up on bulk spices (to reduce waste).
Don’t forget to create a label so you don’t forget what spice it is! I have a cute little label maker with some fun colored tapes and of course the classy black tapes. It’s so satisfying getting to use them in such useful ways, and these repurposed bottles provide the perfect use for these labels. Another (and even easier) way to label your repurposed containers is to write on them with either of these smudge-free and erasable markers for writing on glass: white chalk markers or multi-colored metallic markers.
Common spices found in the bulk section:
- dried basil
- dried oregano
- Italian seasoning
- ground ginger
- curry powder
- chili powder
#2. Bulk foods in mason jars.
Besides finding eco-friendly storage options for small amounts of bulk spices, maybe you are ready to take an even bigger step towards reducing the waste produced from food packaging.
This is a picture of my mom’s pantry (she taught me so well). I know you’ve seen pictures of those Pinterest-perfect pantries with tidy shelves of uniform jars lined up and properly labeled. If that’s something you are willing to spend the necessary time and money to create, go for it (here is a good starter set). The other option is to find unused mason jars around the house, at your local thrift store, or at your grandma’s house.
Next time you buy from the bulk section at the grocery store, use some reusable muslin bags (this is the set I have and use every week) rather than using the plastic bags provided at the store. At home, transfer your bulk food items to jars, slap a label on them and now you have just kept a handful of plastic packaging from going to the dump (it begins to really add up as you do this every time you buy in bulk with your weekly grocery shopping)! Good job 😉
Bulk food staple ideas:
- whole grains: quinoa, brown rice
- nuts and seeds: slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
- pasta: spaghetti, couscous
- oats: steel cut oats, rolled oats
- dried fruit: dates, raisins, mango (my fave!)
- dried beans: black beans, lentils
#3. Bulk foods in used candle jars.
If you aren’t finding many mason jars to reuse, an alternative idea is to use candle jars. As you can see above, that is how I store my almonds.
Whenever you finish a candle, clean out that last remaining bit of wax at the bottom by sticking the candle in the freezer for several hours (I usually forget about it for a few days in the freezer so that’s okay too). Then I will try to break the frozen wax into smaller chunks with a butter knife to get the wax out if the mouth of the jar is narrow. Clean the residual wax with soap and water and voila!…a new reusable food container.
#4. Fresh coffee grounds in a canning jar.
This tip depends entirely on you! If you don’t drink coffee or only drink it occasionally, move on to the next reusable container idea.
But if you do drink coffee pretty regularly and you like to grind your own coffee beans (for all you coffee snobs out there, freshly grinding your own beans brings out more flavor am I right?), here’s an idea:
Grind a small portion of your whole coffee beans ahead of time and store them in a canning jar like my mason jar above. This still brings out more flavor than buying pre-ground coffee, but allows you to skip the loud and messy coffee-grinding step every morning and gets you out the door quicker. A win-win solution to getting a flavorful cup (or many cups) of coffee on busy work days.
#5. Store your own DIY seasoning mixes.
I started making my own seasonings for three reasons:
- It’s much cheaper than store-bought.
- You won’t consume the preservatives, excess sodium, and other unhealthy ingredients of store-bought.
- You will consume less packaging (and therefore unnecessary waste).
It’s also super easy. For this small reusable container I repurposed an empty pesto container. As you can see, I played with my food a little bit and tried to make pretty layers of each ingredient using my trusty funnel. Finally, just shake it up to mix and add a label!
Taco Seasoning Recipe
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 & 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 to 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
Italian Seasoning Recipe
- 1 & 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp marjoram
- 1/2 tsp rosemary
- 1/2 tsp basil
- 1/2 tsp sage
#5. Store seasonal foods in sealed jars.
There are some seasonal food items you might like to keep fresh for a little longer than its season or even for one year until the season comes back around. For these items, mason jars and well-sealed empty candle jars are perfect storage options.
I store my hot chocolate packets and candy canes for two reasons: 1. Here in Texas, it’s hot most of the year so I save my hot chocolate for cold and seasonal months (or basically just December lol). 2. I don’t like to use the entire hot cocoa packet in one drink (too sweet!) so some of the packets are opened and need to be sealed to stay fresh. The candy canes will be used to melt in the hot chocolate drinks so they were also saved in these sealed containers.
Other examples of seasonal food items to store: Valentine’s Day sweets, Halloween candy, Easter candy, and Christmas-time hot chocolate mix and peppermint kisses. Every major season seems to have those large holiday-shaped Reese’s candies anyways (you know, the Easter egg, Halloween pumpkin, and Christmas tree), which are reason enough to start a seasonal stash that can last you until they come out again for the next holiday! Keep in mind that most sealed candies will last one year, so don’t try to save them longer than that.
#6. Pour cooking grease into a glass jar.
Oils and grease are bad for the environment. Improperly disposing of your cooking grease through the kitchen sink drain can build up and clog your pipes. They can also make their way into the local sewer, water and waste management facilities which are not able to completely process these fats and oils. Build up can then occur which can lead to these oils leaking into the environment. Save yourself some plumbing expenses and save your local wildlife and ecosystems by properly disposing of your cooking grease.
Keep even the ugly glass jars from used food containers, like the ones with obnoxious product labeling on the lids (like my yellow-lidded salsa jar above). When you have extra cooking grease left from foods like bacon, ground beef, or baked chicken, use those empty glass containers to pour the grease into. Of course, do this after you let the hot grease cool for a little bit (for your safety as you pour).
There are so many options after that step. If you like to keep your greases like bacon grease for future cooking, then keep this in the fridge until you need it next time (don’t wait too long, it will expire) for frying some bacon-flavored potatoes, eggs, or veggies. To dispose of it, you can let the grease solidify at room temperature in the glass container and then throw them both in the trash (you’ve at least reused the container once more so it’s still an environmentally-friendly notion). For a cleaner disposal, you can also store it in the freezer until trash day when you throw it into the trash before the trash truck picks it up. That way it doesn’t have time to melt and possibly leak into your household trashcan or the outdoor trash bin.
#7. Regrow your green onions in an open jar.
I hate it when I forget to use my green onions in time before they wilt in the fridge, so an easy way to keep your green onions fresh longer is to keep them in an open container with about one inch or less of water. In this picture above I used an empty pickle jar, but any used food container will do.
As you can see in the previous tip #6’s picture, I tried to store my green onions in the fridge. Turns out they don’t like that! They would shrivel up very quickly, so I tried leaving them out on the counter at room temperature in a small amount of water and that has kept them alive for weeks now. They even add some nice greenery to the kitchen.
In fact, the green onions don’t just stay alive or keep their crisp texture, they REGROW! You can cut off as much as you plan on using with your meal and as long as the remaining roots are in some water they will keep growing for a sustainable source of green onions. Remember to refresh the water every couple of days if it’s all been soaked up or is no longer clear.
#7. Store baked goods in air-tight containers.
Is it wrong to consider granola a baked good? It feels like baking… Either way, I love displaying my homemade granola in an air-tight glass food container like this empty pizza sauce jar.
You probably know what the storing procedure is for the baked goods you like to make, but typically brownies, bars, bagels, and granola can all be stored this way at room temperature. A glass food container can be reused like this for cookies, muffins, and cupcakes too, but need to be placed in the fridge or freezer. Just keeping those plastic bags out of the landfill, one little reused container at a time. 🙂
#8. Use a bottle as a flower vase.
Glass bottles and large jars are perfect to repurpose as flower vases. Here I reused an empty glass kombucha bottle for fresh flowers on my kitchen island.
I have tried using these drink containers to bring smoothies to my workplace but these particular bottles with narrow openings proved too difficult to clean in order to reuse again. A wide-mouthed glass bottle would do the trick though. So besides using your empty glass drink containers as flower vases, you can safely transport cold drinks like lemon water, iced coffee, or smoothies with them as well. Really, the options are as vast as you are inventive and imaginative!