How to Start Reusing The Jars and Plastic Containers You Typically Toss

111219_Getty Plastic Yogurt Containers

Whether you’re perusing Pinterest or wandering around a local knick-knack store, it seems like people can make anything out of mason jars these days. There are mason jar chandeliers. There are kits for making your own mason jar soap dispensers, and mason jar bird feeder tutorials. We’re in the midst of real mason jar mania, where they’ve transcended canning and preserving (and, more recently, lining the table at every farm-to-table restaurant) to become a darling of the crafting world. And while I do love reusing mason jars for make-ahead, single serving lunch salads, I’m a bigger proponent of figuring out inventive ways to reuse all of the other containers that end up in our kitchens—from juice bottles, to yogurt cups, to spaghetti sauce jars.

Sure, at first glance, a glass vessel that recently held a bunch of Prego might not seem like something worth saving, and that it’s better off just tossing in the recycling bin. But the eco-friendliest thing we can do (even before recycling!) is reusing items. Think about it like the kitchen equivalent of sewing a button back on your shirt instead of ditching it for a new one: If you’re working to avoid fast fashion, working to avoid a build up of one-time-use items in your kitchen should be an easy next step. You’ll reduce your plastic usage significantly, curbing the avalanche of store-bought plastic container tops and bottoms that spill out of a cabinet every time you go hunting for a matching lid. (I know that’s not just me.) And a happy bonus? Many everyday food containers are actually quite attractive once they’re scrubbed down, the label is (potentially) removed and they’re allowed to shine as multitalented vessels. All it requires is seeing things a little bit differently.

Cooking dinner shouldn't be complicated

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Glass containers are the easiest place to start, because they’re safe for reuse when it comes to foods and incredibly durable. The focal point of my dining room table is often a big, wild-looking arrangement of flowers using a jug of Martinelli’s apple juice as the vase itself, and over the years, I’ve fooled plenty of people into thinking it’s an expensive, high-end vahz, darling. (Imagine their surprise when I make the big reveal!) Milk that comes in glass jars (like from Homestead Creamery) also make for attractive vases, as well as a great way to make (and shake up!) homemade salad dressing. Use smaller-sized glass jars—I really love the funky shape of these squatty little artichoke jars—for organizing a spice drawer or even a bathroom cabinet. And any glass jar with a secure lid makes a perfect way for storing and visualizing items purchased in bulk, like flours, sugars and nuts. It also keeps the pantry contents fresher far longer than plastic packaging—just make sure to label each item!

Reusing plastic, on the other hand, is a little bit more complicated. Some plastics have the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, as part of their makeup, which can potentially leech into food if the container is reused overtime. Avoid those by following advice from the Environmental Working Group and only reusing plastic containers that are plastics 2, 4 and 5. (You can find what kind of plastic the container is made with by looking for the three arrows that form a triangle imprinted on the packaging and checking the number in the middle.) One of the most versatile plastic vessels when it comes to reuse are quart-sized yogurt containers with a secure lid. I use them most often to send leftovers home with friends after a dinner party (with instructions not to reheat in the microwave, of course). But I’ve also refashioned these larger yogurt containers into a highly decorated birthday gift container instead of using a bag and tissue paper, as well as used the smaller, single-sized yogurt cups to start seedlings in the winter.

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So the next time you’re tempted to drop something in the recycling bin, get a little creative! Is there a better way that wine bottle can be reused? I can almost guarantee you’ll think of something.

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