How can I reuse or recycle … plastic take-out containers?

Plastic food containerBecause we so often get caught up doing other things (and/or are lazy), John and I have take-out about once a week. Sometimes this is pizza, as I’ve mentioned before, but recently we discovered a new Chinese place open up nearby and we have been partaking in its various offerings.

Long gone are the days of foil tubs and cardboard tops – everyone in the take-out world seems to use microwaveable plastic lidded containers these days. While I have worries about storing food in plastic for any length of time, we kept the first few rounds of tubs to use for leftovers from our own culinary exploits and the like. But now we have more tubs & lids than we know what to do with – we have more than enough for use in the kitchen and around the house – and storage is getting to be a problem.

We can’t doorstep-recycle them because they’re Polypropylene (type 5) and our council only recycles types 1, 2 and 4 (as seems standard) – and I don’t know anywhere else that recycles them. I doubt the take-out places could take them back for their re-use for hygiene reasons – and ditto anywhere else that might find them useful but lacks sterilising equipment.

So any suggestions? Recycling ideas or uses outside the normal ones around the home (food tubs in the kitchen; nuts/bolts/screws in the cellar; under plants..)?

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35 Responses to “How can I reuse or recycle … plastic take-out containers?”

  1. Victoria Finney says:

    freezer containers,
    mini seed trays (sprouts three garlic bulbs with room to spare, poke holes in the base and sit the top on the lid to catch draining water.)

  2. Keith R says:

    Well, besides as planters for small plants, freezer containers, and organizers for nuts/bolts/screws, why not (1) storage for bulk spices and powders in the kitchen that must be kept dry and sealed to preserve flavor; (2) storage for other bulk items, such as sugar, floor, salt — you could decorate the plastic containers in something colorful and appropriate to your kitchen; (3) storage for miscellanous things that tend to get scattered in the bathroom and elsewhere in house, such as those cotton balls my wife uses for makeup (that always seem to escape their plastic bag once opened), or pens/pencils & erasers (our kids seem to spread these throughout the house), or shopping coupons, or plastic picnic utensils you reuse, or…

    I’ll try to think of some more, but that’s all that springs to mind off the top of my mind.

    BTW, given your interest in recycling unusual items, I’m wondering what you thought of my articles on recycling coconuts, making jewelry from aluminum cans, and houses from PET bottles? I soon will be doing some on furniture from PET bottles and tyres, a cistern made of PET bottles, a Christmas tree made from PET bottles…

    Best Regards,

  3. Use them to keep leftover food in the fridge, that way you will be recycling food and the container. Plus you can use them as lunchboxes!

  4. And… use them as storage containers for various things.

  5. Paulalala says:

    Primary schools would probably love them.

  6. cmbycreative says:

    If you’re doing take-out anyway, take them with you to the restaurant. If you ask them to fill the reusable container, most will. (Especially helps if it’s from the same place).

    Here in Nova Scotia, foam containers are still the norm–you’re lucky!

  7. Melodious says:

    in our community we have a childrens museum that takes clean containers and all sorts of things for art projects. If you have such a thing give them a call and find out about their donation policy.

  8. CheapNLazy says:

  9. FoxHillGardener says:

    I used a load to line my kitchen drawer that has all the bits and bobs in. Yucan then keep a differnt bit or bobo in each and everything doesn’t slide around when the drawer is opened and closed

  10. Thad says:

    I second the recommendation to donate them to a school or museum or a place like or

  11. Sack36 says:

    I still get the paper boxes in my area, but if yours really look like the example pictured, you can put colorful beads or bits of fabric in it, glue the lid on and hang an array of them on the wall in a kids room as artwork. Can also fill with colored sands for the artwork. Drop the lid and add candles on top of the sands to decorate around a bathroom.

  12. pamela crowe says:

    My council (Leeds City Council) recycles plastics 1, 2 and 4. I noticed recently that North Lincs County Council recycles plastics 1, 2, 3 and 5 and have contacted them to find out how they can do this – if they respond usefully I hope to use the information to petition my council to introduce recycling plastic 5. So much of our plastic waste at home is of this type, it makes me sick that we can’t recycle it, it is after all marked with the recycling logo
    as 1, 2 and 4 are.

  13. nia says:

    i use them for paint.. lids for mixing

  14. Emily N says:

    I use them as fridge organizers. place fruit in the containers. takes up less space than bags or just the fruit itself

  15. Revolution says:

    If you eat a lot of take-away, ask your local restaurant if you can take in your OWN plastic tubs for them to fill!
    Think waste minimisation!

    • I agree with Revolution! While the restaurants probably won’t take the containers back for reuse for OTHER customers, all you have to do is ask them, and they would probably be glad to fill food in your own container for you. It means savings for them, and waste minimisation for you. In fact, the shops I go to normally charge me a little less when I bring my own takeout containers. Just remember to pop a few containers in your car and cloth shopping bag when you go out, so when you need to purchase food, the containers are already there with you.

  16. I love entertaining my guests and many times they often want to take food home so I use the take out containers instead of my nice dishes.

  17. Alex says:

    I just had a bake sale this weekend to fund my eagle project and one of the moms used hers to put brownies in, we just sold the 10 or whatever brownies as one set

  18. peter black says:

    i have been looking for thease what i would use them for is for hatching geckos in my incubator
    as they are the right size to right on to keep what gecko perents they belong to realy usefull

  19. Anonymous says:

    store things that you don’t know how to recycle yet or things you haven’t had time to recycle yet.

  20. carrie says:

    each year for christmas i make note cards for my aunt, who uses them throughout the next year (she sends tons of thank-yous, birthday cards, etc), and i package them in these containers. you could also use them to file recipe cards, greeting cards, or to keep pens and markers in for your children.

  21. dAN says:

    These suggestions are useful, but there’s only so many tubs you can reuse.

    If we stop buying takeaways that use plastic containers, and let the restaurant know the reason why, then perhaps they’ll revert to the more readily recyclable foil and cardboard.


  22. Put some small holes in them and use them to keep siamese fighting fish apart in your main fish tank.

  23. Olia says:

    Use as form for making bricks out of cement, small stepping stones.

  24. idiot says:

    These are all terrible. The op stated there is no room for them so repurposing them stopped making sense 20 containers ago. Donate them for a kid’s art project? Which will… Wait for it… End up in the trash. Bake sale? Give neighbors leftovers? Simply spreading the problem, probably to less enlightened people who will… throw them in the trash. Why isn’t there a place we can just mail them in bulk for recycling?

  25. idiot says:

    Btw whole foods has a bin for plastic 5 now

  26. ck says:

    In Minnesota (maybe our food safety laws are bit stiffer) they are not supposed to use your off the street container. Makes sense from a safety standpoint, not letting their scoops/etc. touch your possibley contaminated food container.

    But, if possible, get it to eat in and simply dump into your container right in front of them. :) Worst case they have to wash but that is better than the cost of the non-recyclable container.


  27. Bertie says:

    Seed trays

  28. dave says:

    Take it to a local recycling firm, they do exist, I work for one, although they don’t often engage with members of the public, I’m sure they’d happily take it off your hands.

    this is the one I work at…

    I don’t know where you are, but somewhere like that could make it into resalable plastic :)

  29. Aliso says:

    Recycling any plastic is a great idea, you can take these boxes or left over lids to your local supermarket recycle centre. However if you do re-use the tub make sure that your tub is BPA Free.

    Alison Handling Services


  1. How can I reuse or recycle orphaned storage tub lids? » How can I recycle this? 23 04 08

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