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15 Smart Ways To Reuse Plastic Containers

collage:yogurt containers filled with office supplies/seedlings in a plastic container/scooping dry dog food with a small plastic container/pouring liquid fabric softener onto a sponge in a plastic container

Repurpose Plastic Containers (Without Creating Confusion)

I make an effort to reuse or repurpose plastic containers whenever I can. Not only is it better for the planet, but it’s an easy way to build up a collection of free reusable containers!

Related: These Are The 9 Best Containers To Save And Repurpose

From yogurt cups to sour cream containers to butter tubs, a wide variety of store-bought items come in plastic containers, so I always have plenty of them I can “upcycle.” I like to remove the print from the containers before I reuse them, partly because I prefer the clean, print-free look, and partly to avoid confusing everyone in the house by with containers whose contents don’t match their labels.

I’ll show you how to remove the ink from plastic containers below, then we’ll talk about how you can reuse them!

yogurt container, cotton pads, nail polish remover

How To Remove Print From Plastic Containers

Removing the ink printed on plastic containers is actually really simple! All you need is rubbing alcohol or acetone-based nail polish remover, and some cotton balls or rounds.

hands rubbing print off a yogurt container with a cotton pad

Just pour a little rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover onto a cotton ball and wipe it across the printed areas. You may need to use a few cotton balls to get all of the ink off, but pretty soon you’ll have a naked container! Give it a good wash in warm, soapy water and then it’ll be ready to use.

15 Practical Ways To Reuse Plastic Containers

Now that you have your de-inked and squeaky clean container, what are you going to do with it? It’s up to you, but I’ve got a few ideas to share with you to help you get inspired. ;-)

bag of frozen corn in a plastic container

1. Frozen Foods

Once you’ve opened a bag of frozen veggies or other frozen food, store the unused portion in a plastic container. They’ll keep your frozen foods from accidentally spilling everywhere, and they’re easier to stack than tied-off bags!

Repurposed Plastic Containers one with lid and a label that says "oats", one open showing rolled oats inside

2. Bulk Goods

Buying food from the bulk section of your grocery store is a great way to save money, and you can save even more by storing them in repurposed containers! Use a piece of masking tape on the lid or front to identify what’s inside.

Repurposed Plastic Container full of spice, with colorful spoon in it

3. Spices

Speaking of bulk goods, smaller containers are great for storing bulk spices! They’re so much cheaper to buy than packaged spices, and less wasteful too. Yogurt containers in particular are perfect for spices, because the mouth of the container is wide enough that you can scoop out the contents with a teaspoon. Easy measuring!

Repurposed Plastic Containers with label saying happy thanksgiving

4. Leftovers

I like to send my kids home with leftovers when they come over for dinner, but then I end up giving away all my good storage containers! So I’ve started using repurposed containers to pack up leftovers. It’s quick and easy, and I don’t have to worry about hounding my kids to bring them back. ;-)

Repurposed Plastic Containers with straw hole cut, being used for soda pop

5. Drinks

Use a larger container as a spill-resistant drink cup! Just poke a small hole in the lid, slip a straw in, and fill the container with your beverage of choice. You can even take it in the car with you without having to worry about spills.

Related: The Secrets Of Dirty Sodas And How To Make My Favorite One

Repurposed Plastic Containers one inside the other -- carrot on outside, dip in the smaller one inside

6. Snacks

Place a small container inside a larger one to make an easy snacking setup! Put your favorite dip in the center cup, and your favorite dipping snack in the space around the center cup.

Repurposed Plastic Container with seedlings

7. Seedlings

Yogurt cups are a great size for starting seedlings! Just cut the top part of the cup off before planting. This will make it much easier to slide the seedling out when it’s time to transfer it to a larger container.

Repurposed Plastic Container filled with colored pencils and covered with pink paper

8. Crayons

Decorate a container with washi tape or craft paper, and use it to store crayons and other art supplies.

Repurposed Plastic Containers with office suppies - thumbtacks, paper clips, binder clips

9. Office Supplies

Short tubs and containers can help you organize office supplies in your desk drawers. Use them to corral paper clips, rubber bands, binder clips, and more.

Repurposed Plastic Container being used to scoop dry dog food

10. Scoop

Use a repurposed container as a scoop for your pet’s food. Use a measuring cup to measure out one serving of food, then pour that amount into the container. Use a marker to mark how full the container is with one serving of food for quick and easy measuring! You can even leave the scoop in the food bag or container so you don’t misplace it.

Repurposed Plastic Container decorated with washi tape

11. Gifts

You can use small containers to “wrap” small gifts. Just place the gift inside, and decorate the outside with paint, tape, or modpodge to make it cute. :-)

Repurposed Plastic Container with slits inside dispensing ribbon

12. Yarn & Ribbon

There’s nothing more frustrating than a tangled mess of yarn or ribbon! Keep it organized by storing your collection in a repurposed container. Just cut holes in the side, then feed your yarn or ribbon through. Pull gently to dispense more yarn or ribbon, and it will stay nice and tangle-free!

Repurposed Plastic Container with a sponge inside, hand pouring Downy fabric softener over sponge

13. Fabric Softener

Here’s a method that will make the most out of a bottle of fabric softener. Grab a container, then cut up a clean kitchen sponge into pieces that are small enough to fit inside. Pour fabric softener into the container so that it soaks into the sponge pieces. When you put a load of clothes in your dryer, just grab one of the softener-soaked sponges, squeeze it a bit so that it’s damp but not dripping, and toss it right in with your clothes. You’ll still have soft and static-free clothes, but your bottle of fabric softener will last several times longer than it would have!

Related: 5 Excellent DIY Fabric Softeners With Something For Everyone

Repurposed Plastic Container being used to collect compostable kitchen waste

14. Compost

Use a repurposed container to store food scraps for your composting. When the container is full, add it to your compost pile, rinse out the container, and start again!

Repurposed Plastic Containers labeled "root veggies" and filled with cut vegetables

15. Meal Prep

Prepping your meals ahead of time can be a great way to eat healthier on a busy schedule. But you’re going to need a lot of containers to store all that prepped food! If you have a sizable collection of repurpose containers, you’ll have plenty of options for storing your prepped meals.

Find more great ways to reuse a variety of everyday items! Visit the Uses For Page.

What are your favorite uses for plastic containers?

Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Bright Ideas

  • Whipped cream, sour cream and cottage cheese containers are my favorite to reuse. I just can’t figure out how to get the sharpie off of the lid. Even running them through the dishware doesn’t work.

  • Storing food in plastic doesn’t cause cancer. Do some investigating of your own, folks. There are so many myths out there.
    Plastic containers are also great for storing frozen foods when you don’t want to drag out the canning equipment. Frozen applesauce is great, especially partly frozen
    And as for all those plastic bags from the grocery store, store some IN your shopping bags so you’ll remember to reuse them.

  • Don’t want to sound rude, but I always have to chuckle when I read everyone’s cautions and safety tips!! Our mothers (mine, anyway!) repurposed every container they could get their hands-on, and it was WAY more dangerous then! Many times, I think our bodies can handle more than we give it credit for. And, I do not always think that we can pinpoint exactly WHY someone gets cancer. At age 25 (40 years ago), I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Had a very rapidly planned hysterectomy. In 2006, my then 28yo daughter died of ovarian cancer. Yet, next Monday, we will be burying my Auntie. She died at the age of 104, survived ALL of the diseases that her generation threw at her, as well as COVID!! She was raised on butter, bacon, lard, however many eggs she wanted, and who knows what else?? I do not reheat in leftover plastic, but I do not think that Jillee is, in any way, giving us a death wish! Just like what you SHOULD always do in your life…follow your OWN gut and heart!

  • If you have a male in your home that uses a urinal try your old liquid detergent plastic bottles. They already smell good, the opening is wide enough and they can be closed tightly until emptied. Add vinegar and a little water and they will smell even better. This also works for the little ones in an emoon long car trips. The store urinals are expensive and need to be replaced often. Using detergent bottles will definitely save you money. My husband is disabled and they work perfectly.

  • Re-using plastic containers of all sorts and sizes is a great travel strategy: Cut apples, oranges or cucumber in a cottage cheese container, with toothpicks taped to the top, are a great snack. You don’t touch the food so your hands stay clean and there’s no risk of picking up germs. I usually put the container in a zip-lock quart sized bag with a napkin – just for estra security against a spill inside my carry-on. TSA has never taken it away. I stay hydrated, avoid salty/sugary snacks onboard, and never have to worry about being unable get something to eat if the connection is too tight or my flight is delayed.

  • I have several cats, all of whom like Temptations treats, so I buy both 16 oz. and 32 oz. sizes, depending on which is on sale. I also like Ice Cubes gum, which comes in small plastic containers. All these containers have snap lids that facilitate dispensing. I’d like to find a way to repurpose these sturdy, well-designed containers. Any suggestions beyond what you’ve given in this post? Thanks!

    • Hi Deb, I bought a huge bag of baking soda at Costco. I used one of my washed 32 oz. cat treat containers to put some of the baking soda in it with a scoop. So much easier to use now.

  • We do at our house use some of the plastic containers for bringing food to people. It’s much easier than having to worry about getting your nice containers back.,And they can just trash them after.

  • For people who don’t want to use them for food, There are plenty of other options in her list for non food things. They are also great for dirty craft things that you don’t want to clean up. Like plaster, you can mix a little plaster and water to patch holes in the walls or to pour into molds for projects then when you are done just toss the container. or paper mache projects. just toss the sticky glue coated container. or if you need to recycle it let the glue dry then pick it off and put the container in the recycle bin. I used a bunch of sour cream containers to sort puzzle pieces by color when I do jigsaw puzzles. I recently took a small container and drilled a hole in the bottom center. I then used that with my drill bit through the center to catch dusty plaster bits when I needed to drill a hole in the ceiling. there are all kinds of uses for plastic containers. reduce, reuse then recycle when you can.

  • Wow – great little tip for how to remove the label. I usually recycle my containers, but I might reuse them if I can get those labels to wipe clean. They can work well inside of larger drawers as dividers as well.

  • I sometimes buy frozen meals for one to have on hand when I am just too exhausted to even think about cooking (fibromyalgia). I wash the plastic dish and bring it with me to my art class where we use them as paint trays or for water when using water colors. On a tight budget, we can’t always afford palettes and traditional containers. I would never reuse plastic for food, though.

  • Jillee, been doing these many years…But have been around a little bit longer, I would imagine..But to the rest, very informative. But plastice containers take up more space in freezers than laying leftovers etc flat in freezer bags….Anyway, good ideas and have a Great day!

  • If you must reuse plastic bags or containers in the kitchen, be sure they are food safe. Reuse only once and then RECYCLE. Plastic milk jugs are designed for one-time-use only.

  • Jillee, you are brilliant and innovative, and I so enjoy your ideas every day…but
    I would caution you about the re purposing of plastics for food. I learned many years ago that there was a correlation with plastic containers leaching carcinogens into food, and while it’s near impossible to avoid their initial use (e.g. Yogurt) they should really not be re used for food. Sending leftovers is always such a fun part of any meal, but I always use glass, and ask they be returned. I use glass in any way possible to replace plastic when it comes to food storage. Plastic is a part of life, but as a cancer survivor, I keep it in its place. Thanks for your column and your enthusiasm for life!

    • Thanks for posting this link. I have used plastic containers for food ever since they first started making them, and have doubted all the cancer claims and other warnings. Nice to know someone actually tested it!

    • I have switched to glass too. Pyrex and Glasslock are great. I won’t let those containers out of my house though. But you mentioned Yogurt and I just wanted to say did you know that Yoplait came out with yogurt in a glass container? It has a thick aluminum cover and they use cane sugar. No artificial sweeteners or that Stevia junk.

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