Alternative Uses for Plastic Storage Containers

plastic containers

Over the years I’ve grown wary of using plastic containers for food storage and cooking. Concerns over BPA and other chemicals that leach from plastics have made me shift from plastic to glass or ceramic cookware for most of my cooking and storage needs. That leaves me with a cabinet full of plastic ware that still has plenty of life in it, but which no longer has a use in my kitchen. (I really have a lot of this stuff because when we got married everyone seemed to think the perfect gift was one of those “50 piece” plastic storage sets, despite the fact that I never registered for any of it. I’ve got more than I could ever use, even if I cooked every single thing in it forever.)

Rather than chucking it in the landfill (no one around here will recycle these types of plastics) or donating it (and thus subjecting others to possible chemical contaminants) I’ve become proactive about finding new uses for my plastic. If you’re like me, stuck with plastic you no longer want to use, here are some ideas for using your old containers that don’t involve food.

Storage/organization for non-food items

This is the most obvious use. I have containers that are small enough to make good holders for things like paper clips and small craft items. I gave a bunch of them to my husband who uses them in the garage for screws and nails. The larger containers and bowls are useful for things like organizing the medicine cabinet, corralling small utensils and tools in drawers, protecting holiday decorations, and corralling things like stain sticks, sponges, and rubber gloves in my cleaning cabinet. They are great to store dryer sheets in after the box has been opened to keep them fresh. Anything you need organized can be put in old food containers.

Fluid catchers

My husband uses a few of my larger containers out in the garage for catching fluids when he’s working on the cars. I keep a couple in the house in case of leaks under the sinks (doesn’t happen often, but when you get a drip, it’s good to have something to catch the water).

Slug traps

My husband took a few of the smaller ones out into the garden and now fills them with beer. The beer attracts and kills the pesky slugs that eat our veggies and I don’t care that the old containers are full of slug goo.


We use the small ones in the spring for seed starters. Even the larger ones work for this, as well, they’re just more cumbersome to move around. You can also drill holes in the bottom and use them for a permanent planter. They can be painted or decorated to make them more attractive.


The small containers work well for scooping pet food and bird seed.

Bringing in the harvest

Plastic containers are good for taking out into the garden when it’s time to pick tomatoes, beans, or any other small crop. You can drop your pickings into the container and easily bring them inside to wash. You don’t have to worry about putting the container down in the dirt because it can be rinsed off easily.

Give it to someone else

No, I’m not suggesting you subject your friends to the chemicals, but if someone has a storage need, you can give away some of your old plastic. A neighbor that had never used plastic for food purposes saw my stack of containers in my garage one day. She asked what I was doing with them and I told her that I was slowly repurposing them. She asked if she could have some of them and I happily gave them to her. She’s been using them to organize her kids’ small toys, art supplies, Legos, game pieces, doll clothes, and desk items.


We put lots of things in plastic bins when we go camping. Batteries, card games, matches, compact cameras, and napkins are just some of the things we want to keep dry and organized. They’re also useful for storing things in sheds, in cabinets of outdoor grills, or any other outdoor place that might get wet.

Compost collector

I keep a larger container on my counter and drop food scraps into it. The snap on lid means that no odors escape. When it’s full, I take it out to the compost heap. You can also use one to collect grease and oil that shouldn’t go down the drain.

Charger/cable storage

I have cords and cables for everything. My phone, iPod, Kindle, camera, etc. all have chargers and cables. Instead of letting them fill up a drawer with a tangled mess or letting them get scattered all over the house, I roll them all up and put them in a large Tupperware container. They’re all easy to find and neatly organized.

Use the lids, too

Lids are great for putting under things like flower pots to catch leaks. I keep a small one in the bathroom so my husband can set the head from his electric toothbrush on it instead of the sink. No more messy patches to wipe up.

If you’re making the switch from plastic to glass containers, don’t just relegate your plastic to the landfill. See if you can find another use for it. Chances are, there are several places around your home where a plastic container can come in handy.

(Photo courtesy of leonorjr)

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7 Responses to Alternative Uses for Plastic Storage Containers

  1. patientsaver says:

    Actually, if you have single stream recycling in your town, they will accept plastics 1 through 7.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I so wish we did have something like that. Sadly, the only recycling facility we have here is super picky. They only take certain numbers of plastic and those must be bottle shaped or, “have a neck smaller than the base.” That lets out any kind of storage container, unfortunately. Thus why I had to get creative to find new uses!

  3. jay says:

    Our municipal recycler accepts only limited kinds of plastics, too.
    However, if you live near a Whole Foods, they usually have a recycling bin for #5 plastics as part of Preserve’s “Gimme 5” program. If you aren’t adding to your collection, might even be worth a bit of a drive. Check the closest store’s website or call to make sure they’re participating. BTW, Aveda shops also accept #5 plastic caps. In both cases, make sure the plastic is labeled #5 since many plastics these days unfortunately tend to be a mixture of types.
    Another possibility is to check out TerraCycle.

    Recycling is only after you’ve done your best to reuse the containers in any or all of the great ways mentioned here!

  4. baselle says:

    2nd the craft storage. They especially useful if you treasure stacking or if you need to contain a craft fluid and dispose of it in situ. For example, paint, grout, etc. You will have to be careful that you aren’t trying to store something that will dissolve the plastic, however.

  5. Gailete says:

    Or of course you could always use them for what was intended–food storage. I find them helpful for freezing ahead of time, they are a shape that is fairly consistent so you don’t have stuff falling over in the freezer, and they are lightweight and cheap enough that when one melts or falls on the floor with frozen food inside – breaks, there is no problem replacing them.

    I have had to go from using my stoneware dishes to lightweight Corelle ones. When I cook something in a glass casserole dish I can barely lift it when the lid is on. Glass and ceramic storage is completely out of the question for me. Please don’t make those of us still using (and will continue to use) plastic containers something to feel ‘guilty’ about. They are convenient, cheap, and easy to use and hold. I have a limit of how many objects I will live in fear of in my life. At almost 60, there has been many startling reports that could have had most of us surviving on air (assuming you could find clean air). I refuse to give in to most of them any more.

  6. patientsaver says:

    If you do the research, you’ll find that plastic food storage containers leach chemicals into the AIR you breathe, so it’s not just a matter of, well, as long as I don’t store food in it, I’m ok. Get it out of the house!

  7. scott tucker says:

    I wish we could get rid of all plastic bags and use something biodegradable. It would do wonders for the earth…

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