We’ve lived so long in a throw away society, that we’ve forgotten the ability to reuse, recycle and repurpose those things that we have used up. Think how cheaply electronics are made now – instead of fixing them, they’re made for us to just throw away and get a new one.
The same thing happens in our kitchen. We have so many everyday food containers that we throw out from mass consumption, especially now that so many communities have talked us into recycling those products (though studies are questioning whether this is really happening).
So let’s think through how we can repurpose everyday food containers we bring home constantly to aid in our food storage and emergency supply storage. We’ll also talk about other storage containers as well.
Tip: Don’t worry – if you don’t typically buy the kinds of foods listed here, I bet your neighbors do and you can always ask for their empty containers!
Repurpose Everyday Food Containers for Long-Term Storage
2 liter soda bottles
These can be a gold mine for storing smaller quantities of dry goods in your pantry or storage. They are airtight already, but can be made more so by waxing the ends with cheese wax (here’s a great video of showing all sorts of plastic bottles being preserved this way).
Be sure to include an oxygen absorber in the bottle with your food if you plan on storing longer than a few months.
A drawback is that they don’t stack neatly and can be at risk for creating a mess if they fall or collapse, but for those of you on super-tight budgets, they can be a great alternative. Plus, if you have trouble doing large buckets and maneuvering them, or don’t feel safe keeping large quantities, you can rotate through the smaller bottles a little faster. Especially handy if you have a small family or can’t physically handle the larger buckets.
Tip: Store soda bottles in tight small spaces where you can’t fit much else.
Cat Litter Buckets
Properly cleaned and sanitized, these can be used to store all sorts of foods and emergency supplies. The benefit is that they stack nicely, make better use of space, and can be found free from any home who has cats. The lids may not be airtight and waterproof depending on the brand and how it was treated while being used, but it is definitely an option for those on a budget and trying to make the most of repurposing.
Tip: Use cat litter buckets for things you wouldn’t normally think of like toilet paper or paper towels with cores removed and smushed.
Prescription Medicine bottles
These can be used to create small kits like fire starters, sewing kits, and more. Check out how our family uses them to create fire starters and this post on the many kits you can create with pill bottles.
Tip: you can even store coins and money in medicine bottles and tuck them in tiny cubbies as hidden storage.
Food Grade buckets
Available from restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores, these buckets were used to store food and condiments in. They can be cleaned (here’s how to get that pickle smell out) and then reused for your own food and emergency supply storage. You’ll want to check the lids to make sure they still fit well (or opt to purchase a new lid from a DIY box store or invest in a Gamma Lid ).
Tip: check with your grocery store bakery department to get the smaller 3-gallon icing buckets.
Non-Food Grade Buckets from DIY Box Stores
While the 5 gallon buckets from the hardware stores aren’t labeled as food grade, many still use them for food grade storage, anyway, especially if you are putting in pre-packaged foods. This is a great way to create common storage. Use them in the same way as the food grade buckets. You can get this bucket wrench tool to help remove the lids much easier.
Tip: Use one of these buckets to create emergency kits to give to family and friends for Christmas.
My grandmother was the queen of using these round plastic containers used by most of the coffee manufacturers today can stack, too, to make them even more useful. You’ll probably be left with a coffee smell, so either clean and sanitize it to oblivion, or learn to embrace the smell ;) Better yet, embrace that smell and create mini-compost containers for your kitchen!
Tip: These are easy to paint and reuse for decorate storage in the craft room or kitchen.
Coffee Creamer Containers
These containers are all the rage for doing craft projects, but remember, they can also be used for food storage or emergency storage. You can store dried herbs, baking soda, and so much more.
Dried Parmesan Cheese Containers
I love using these to store baking soda to use for cleaning, to store herb mixtures for shaking (we use one to do the short-term green powder in one to shake on top of dishes and salads)
Tip: the lids to these containers fit on regular mouth mason jars, too!
Don’t invest in canning jars for simple storage – reuse those glass jars you get with spaghetti sauce, mayonnaise, etc., to store dry goods in. Short-term storage doesn’t require extra care than a tight fitting lid, but you can add an oxygen absorber for something more long-term.
Tip: You can even use these to vacuum seal foods if a canning jar lid will fit on it.
Potato Chip Cans
Potato chip canisters can be used for soap making, storing cookies in for the freezer, etc. (Be sure to wash thoroughly because the fats and oils from the chips can cling to the canister and you want that gone so it doesn’t go rancid)
These tins were all the rage in the last couple of years from crafting to emergency kits to making tinder boxes and more. They are so handy for creating mini-kits for tucking into packs, emergency bags, cubby holes and for gift-giving.
These, after being properly washed and sanitized, make great food storage containers just like soda bottles, but have the benefit of being more stable to store upright with their rectangular shapes. If nothing else, freeze water in them!
Those cookie and candy tins you get at Christmas time can they can be reused for storage! Make great sewing kits, storing odds & bobs together. Collect similar sized tins and make them easy to stack or group to save from unused space! And bonus if you can get ahold of the giant popcorn tins!
Do remember that these tins can rust over time and shouldn’t be used for long-term storage for items not already pre-packaged in mylar bags, etc. But they can be SO useful..don’t rule them out!
Tip: Keep an eye out at your local thrift store for these, especially after the holiday season.
Especially for those of you who buy long-term storage foods in the #10 cans, these can be reused for food storage and emergency supplies and more. Instead of trying to create a list here, Angela has an impressive list at Food Storage & Survival
I love reusing shoe boxes for storage for my emergency supplies in my linen closet, especially. They organize so neatly, can be decorated to make things look a little nicer, and create waste-free stacking. We have boxes stored to the roof in our linen closet of first aid categories, dental, and hygiene. While I love the clear boxes for storage because I can see inside and don’t buy shoes that often, for long-term single-item storage, I love the shoe boxes and keep a label on the outside to know what’s there.
Large Garbage Cans with Lids.
While I don’t see many of us purchasing food in these and then wanting to reuse them, this is one of those items that can be purchased new for long-term food and emergency storage. They can be used to store things like toilet paper and other paper goods, seasonal clothing and more. Especially nice would be to get the trash cans on wheels to make them easy to move around.
Tip: Trash cans can be cleaned with enough bleach and hot water to make them good for storing odd items or bulky things if you are comfortable doing so (like extra tents, sleeping bags, bulk items stored in plastic, etc.)
Small Candy Containers
Many of the candy companies are now putting out their candies and gums in reusable containers. They can be used to create mini survival kits, sewing kits, short-term spice or pill storage, and so much more. Think beyond simple food storage to how they can also be used in emergency kits and camping!
Laundry Soap Bottles
Not only can these be used for non-potable water storage, they can be repurposed for watering cans, hand-washing stations and more.
Plastic food containers
Here’s a category that you’ll really have to judge for yourself on how to repurpose. Things like butter/margarine tubs, non-dairy whip, yogurt and more come in small plastic containers that many reuse to store food in the fridge. I find that many of these containers are not very rigid and will break easily, especially after a few washings in the dishwasher or uses in the freezer. However, you can make use of them, especially for things like long-term emergency storage to contain smaller objects.
What containers shouldn’t you reuse?
Well, that’s a question that is really up to you.
- I wouldn’t suggest reusing milk bottles not only because you can’t be sure to have gotten out all of the milk protein from the plastic, no matter how much you wash it, which can lead to spoilage, but they just aren’t made for long-time storage. They’re meant to break down quickly in trash facilities which make them pretty useless for long-term storage. But they do repurpose to make great watering devices in the garden and other projects.
- I also don’t reuse oil containers because I cannot get them clean enough for my satisfaction.
- Small, inexpensive water bottles are now made like milk jugs. They are meant to break down quickly so are not appropriate for long-term storage usage, though they can be reused for short-term. I wouldn’t refill and reuse for water storage, but storing small amounts of food for the short-term would work.
- And of course, any household cleaners that you might buy should not be reused because of the chemicals that leach into the plastic. We’ve repurposed some spray bottles for homemade spray cleaner in the past, but we make our own now all the time so have just purchased industrial spray bottles, instead.
But isn’t plastic harmful?
There have been loads of studies and articles written about the harmful effects of plastics in our world. But plastics have also brought a lto of good into the world. It is up to you to decide how you want to store your food and emergency supplies. But think on this – you aren’t generating new plastic in these uses, you’re repurposing what’s already been created. And I’ll agree…we need to move away from the throw-away society that creates cheap, disposable, harmful plastics and focus on creating long-term storage options that make more sense. Until then, reduce and reuse as often as possible and recycle where it makes sense.
What other everyday food containers would you add to the list? Are there other reusable containers that you rely on?
Leave your ideas in the comments!
Becky is a wildlife enthusiast and pet and livestock care expert with a diploma in canine nutrition. With over a decade of experience in animal welfare, Becky lends her expertise to Simple Family Preparedness through insightful info about pets, livestock, bee keeping, and the practicalities of homesteading.