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Reused Containers for Food Storage

 
steward & bricolagier
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This is a spin off of another thread, talking about plastic use, trash problems, and reuse of plastic containers.

My reality right now is we moved, expecting to be in a rental for a year while our house was being built. Chaos happens, we are still in the rental. The systems I designed for food storage that moved easily and stored in places that are not my good pantry that is designed into the new house are still in use, and have been extended as I need more room. This rental is a tract house, it was not designed with me in mind.  I am strapped for money right now, and doing all of this out of trash. I don't prefer plastic, but due to health realities of me and my mom (who I live with) glass is too heavy for some things, and I also don't have room to spread out as much as I want to in the kitchen.

So this is what we are currently doing for food storage, all free containers, scavenged out of trash or recycle bins.

I picked certain sizes that work like the different layers of a forest (high trees, low trees, vines, herbs, roots, etc) to fill all the niches that we use. All of a size match, or are very close. All of my containers are chosen for ease of keeping clean, no weird little ridges in the glass jars, etc. So I bring home certain shapes and sizes, and if we buy something in glass or plastic, we try to make it things that will go into our system and get reused.


My sizes of containers. From the left: #10 cans that I reuse and seal weirdly (will write up how to do that sometime) those are my deep storage. Most things that come into the house in a 50 pound bag get put into those. When I need the contents, the contents of the can gets transferred into a gallon glass or plastic jar. Some things just don't do well in plastic, some things are way too heavy in glass. The gallon jars all store together in another room where there's space, and we refill the kitchen containers out of them. Kitchen containers are square plastic jars, or Prego jars (or very similar sized glass jars.) Spices and smaller things are in either the big plastic spice jars, or smaller glass ones. Everything is labeled nicely.


The Prego jars are in cardboard boxes that have handles cut into the reinforced ends, making them slide like a drawer on the shelves I keep them on. Each box has a category of food in it, this is the beans box.


The gallon jars are in their own boxes in the other room, also reinforced and sliding on shelves.

The spices have their own boxes they slide in too (not pictured) and the square plastics live on an open shelf, several layers deep.

This is an incredibly dense storage system, you would not believe how much stuff is stored in how small of a footprint of space, and I didn't go up over our heads with it, could have easily. And it's all reused!! I have mason jars, but they get used for things that are canned or heat sealed, not anything easy to store.
 
gardener & hugelmaster
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Location: mountains of Tennessee
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I have a similar setup. I store a lot of food in Mason jars (other than just honey) & reuse food grade plastic that would be otherwise be recycled for storage. I have several 5 gallon water jugs that are filled with beans &/or rice. Obtaining 5 gallon food grade buckets with sealing lids is often possible from grocery store & bakeries. They are usually happy to give them away. They stack well.

 
gardener
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Me too and great pics, Pearl!

I have a lot of rubbermaid and Glad containers that I've had for years.  I switched to glass containers for my heatable food for lunches and some freezing.  MY SIL uses jars to store most of her food - fridge and freezer but I feel nervous about the risk of breaking them that way and can't stack them.  I do have lots of gallon and half gallon jars for dry food storage.  They are great!

I have a large number of small plastic cottage cheese containers that my mom gave me several years ago that are the perfect size to freeze 1-2 days worth of black beans in.  I make a big batch in the IP, cool in the fridge and then scoop into those containers.  I think it's funny that I'm completely plant-based and my cupboard and freezer have so many of those containers.  They are thick and I am sure will be good for many more years.

I'm increasingly conscious of my plastic usage and am doing my  best to never buy another plastic bag.  I have a stash that I bought awhile ago and I like the thought of that challenge.  I'm now washing freezer bags and reusing them and am reusing the same gallon bags for freezing scraps for compost - taking to the homestead on each trip.  Now that I can compost, it's cut down on my trash significantly and I can wait until it's truly full to take it out rather than having the odor dictate.  It's been three weeks since I started this challenge and my garbage can is only 1/3 full.  I know I can do better.

I appreciate the benefits of plastic reduction, cost reduction, waste/trash reduction AND the challenge of continuing to look at my stuff and my waste in different ways to see if I can get creative or reduce in a new way.
 
Mike Barkley
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 1957
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conscious of my plastic usage and am doing my  best to never buy another plastic bag.  I have a stash that I bought awhile ago and I like the thought of that challenge.



Took that same challenge several years ago. Don't remember the last time I bought any unless you count some bear bags. Really thick double zippered bags made out of some sort of special plastic that helps avoid hungry bears while hiking & camping.

1. Reuse the baggies that sliced cheese & deli meat comes in. Several times usually.
2. Reuse the thin plastic bags that stores everywhere insist on trying to dump on you. They are even good for freezing short term. Not pretty but it works.






 
pollinator
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Here in California, plastic bags are hard to come by, typically, you have to pay for them. Old school plastic grocery bags are banned. You can now buy, for 10 cents, a thicker 'multi use' bag or a paper bag, or bring your own. Smaller produce bags are available when you buy produce otherwise they charge you. Now, I'm not saying that I disagree with any of it, but it does make reusing, not buying a challenge. I don't buy much produce like that, so most of our reuse bags are bread bags. I use reusable containers most of the time, but sometimes bags take up less space, so I'm balancing refrigerator space vs. container usage.
 
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Ditto the use of old jars to save seeds and store foodstuffs in the pantry. The benefits of glass (for storage) outweigh all others IMHO.

Similarly, have also swapped out plastic food containers for glass alternatives – no taint to food when storing or heating. The old plastic ones have been given to relatives for reuse in their holiday homes, or, put in the Council recycle bin.

The new glass ones (see link) do come with plastic lids, but have proven to be very robust and usually don’t contact the food – better than cling wrap by far!

Glasslock USA

So now it’s mostly ‘natural’ products for storage and kitchen use: tin, glass, earthenware, stainless steel. Aluminium used sparingly.
 
gardener
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I recognize that a big advantage of plastic is that it generally nests better than glass bottles, but for *really* keeping stuff fresh and dry in a damp climate, glass with a metal lid is the way to go from my experience. The plastic basket below came with Christmas Mandarin Oranges in it - we got several and they are soooo... helpful for keeping things organized. The jars in it came with relish in them and we've had them for years. Being narrow, they don't have a big footprint which makes them great for home-dried herbs. I don't like to crush my herbs until ready to use them, as that also keeps them "fresher", so I need a bit more space than a commercial spice jar gives. These jars have being used for over a decade. I suspect that a plastic alternative would have gotten brittle by now.
bottle_reuse.JPG
[Thumbnail for bottle_reuse.JPG]
 
gardener
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We reuse glass jars for dried herbs.
 
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I reuse or upcycle everything I can. Don't see the point in buying plant labels when the plastic from cooking oil containers do just as well. I sometimes choose my purchase because the brand has a container I can use for something else.
 
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I started making cat food for our 2 young cats.  Found batch cooking and freezing in pint mason jars best.  The wide straight sided type has a fill line indication for freezing and I've found those don't break.  Would way rather use something recycled but haven't come up with anything else in glass that consistently doesn't break with freezing.  It came out to almost a dollar a jar but I consider it an investment.  And my cost breakdown shows that I'm saving enough money on the food to make up the cost of jars.  Not to mention I know what's going into the food.  BTW, since it's cooked, I do supplement with Taurine.

So after all the rambling, does anyone have other suggestions for something recycled that would work?  I'd use the jars I bought for actual canning.
 
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Ha! I recognize the peanut containers--I like those because the square shape saves space. I reuse all sorts of plastic bags, but there is some question about possible health effects, so I'm moving to using more glass, sometimes with plastic lids--this is especially handy for leftovers because you can move them into the container and clean the pot, while the food is still hot.
For those who said they're trying to never buy another plastic bag--THANK YOU! I live in West Virginia, and there is a scheme to turn our entire western border, AKA the Ohio River, into a petrochemical corridor, mainly to make plastic. But the foreign companies talking about investing keep postponing, because they're doubting the market--that's thanks to YOU, to everyone talking about getting away from or banning single-use plastic and everyone actually avoiding it. There is also talk of expanding Cancer Alley #1 in Louisiana, so knocking down the market helps those beleaguered people too. Plastic production spurs fracking, pollutes water and air, emits greenhouse gases, gives cancers to workers and neighbors. And produces plastic, which the world has far too much of.
I found an outfit in Pittsburgh called Our Children Our Earth that sells various alternatives to plastic. I bought a silicone bag from them--they say it isn't plastic but anyway you can boil, microwave, dishwasher, oven or freeze it, it will last forever and it's easy to zip closed or open. The one downside is that it's thick so it takes up a lot more space than a plastic bag (my freezer space especially is at a premium).
Incidentally, what our grandparents did--what we all did when I was a kid and I'm only 64--was refill bottles.We had milk delivered to our porch weekly, by the milkman, at dawn, and returned the bottles. Coke came in glass bottles on which people paid a deposit...some littered it, but that's how I made my first money as a kid, collecting them from roadsides (along with aluminum cans for recycling). We need to get back to this model--selling things in plastic to be thrown out after a quick use is illegitimate.
 
John F Dean
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More and more we are using canning jars.  Lately, I have seen more #10 cans that my wife has put to use. We have not stopped using plastic, but we are getting closer to it.
 
Dianne Justeen
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Mary Wildfire wrote:
Incidentally, what our grandparents did--what we all did when I was a kid and I'm only 64--was refill bottles.We had milk delivered to our porch weekly, by the milkman, at dawn, and returned the bottles. Coke came in glass bottles on which people paid a deposit...some littered it, but that's how I made my first money as a kid, collecting them from roadsides (along with aluminum cans for recycling). We need to get back to this model--selling things in plastic to be thrown out after a quick use is illegitimate.



I'm 63 and I remember the milkman delivering our milk, butter and eggs.  Our local supermarket now sells milk in reusable half gallons.  There's a $2 deposit on the bottles so a real incentive to return them when empty.
 
master pollinator
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My pantry some years ago. Now there are even more re-used containers in it.
 
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I see those jars with the black lids, Inge!! I scored at least a dozen of them (here, they contain instant coffee, and my cousin does supermarket placement and gave me what was left over from their promotion), coffee and all, to use as storage once I use up the contents!
I also often choose what I buy based on how I can reuse the containers. Every year after Easter and Christmas there are usually cookies and breads in tins that go on clearance, those make great storage for rice, beans (and seeds!).
 
pollinator
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I gift most of the blackberry cordial I make.  Surprisingly, I get very few of the empties back.  I salvage small bottles from the recycling bin, but finding the right size with lids still on is a challenge.  One co-worker's spouse has started picking up likely bottles to contribute.  I'll have to send him a bonus bottle of cordial.
 
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Jars....

Prego is ok, I like their sauce. But the jars are the lug type. We buy Classico. They have the mason jar threads. "But its more expensive!" Is it? If you account that the jar itself is worth $1 the contents are cheap indeed. We use the Classico jars to water bath can sauce, pickling, etc. Never had one break.

Jugs ....

When we're out shopping we occasionally pick up the 1gal glass jug wine for making sangria, etc. We rinse out and bake at about 250 for an hour to dry and sterilize them. We keep our dry beans in them. And of course you can make home made wine in them -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8sVCfGTTjAgs

Pickle Jugs ....

Friend works part time for a caterer. In the summer he is always bringing us the used jugs. Wide mouth food grade plastic. All sorts of uses for these -- flour, rice, beans, etc. He gets some eggs in exchange.


Wine Bottles ....

Great for making herb oils. Cap with a bar serving spout for perfect dispensing. Get the darker bottles rather than clear.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Tereza Okava wrote:I see those jars with the black lids, Inge!! I scored at least a dozen of them (here, they contain instant coffee, and my cousin does supermarket placement and gave me what was left over from their promotion), coffee and all, to use as storage once I use up the contents!
I also often choose what I buy based on how I can reuse the containers. ....


You're right about the coffee, Tereza. It's the best tasting instant coffee ... but then I decided not to buy that brand anymore. I now have an organic coffee with very re-usable containers too.
 
john mcginnis
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Mary Wildfire wrote: Coke came in glass bottles on which people paid a deposit...some littered it, but that's how I made my first money as a kid, collecting them from roadsides (along with aluminum cans for recycling). We need to get back to this model--selling things in plastic to be thrown out after a quick use is illegitimate.



That brings back memories! Me and the buds would scour the canals and ditches for Pepsi bottles. Six of those and .25c got us in the Saturday matinee, 1 soda and box of Cracker Jack. That was high living for a 8 or 9yo. How the movie ushers ever survived us is a miracle!
 
gardener
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Almost 40 years ago I drank instant coffee, and selected Nescafe because it came in a beautiful square glass quart-ish jar with a nice plastic lid (no rusting). I still have and use a half dozen of those for dry storage, and have found that peanut butter jars of a certain size have lids that fit and almost match, as some of the old lids have deteriorated.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Because of this thread, and also because of the hype of storing food for a month, I stuffed my pantry (and freezer) some more, using more of those coffee jars, and made a new photo.

gift
 
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