7 Ingenious Reuses for Plastic Bottles and Boxes

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus  | 
plastic bottles for watering flowers on the balcony as irrigation system
Old soda bottles make for great plant irrigation systems in home gardens. RaffMaster/Shutterstock

It's no secret that the world is drowning in plastic. We may try to do our part by tossing our used bottles, cups and containers into the recycling bin. But even plastic items marked as recyclable usually are not recycled; rather, they're taken from the recycling bin and tossed into a landfill. Just 14 percent of the world's plastic waste is currently being recycled, according to the World Economic Forum, and only 2 percent gets recycled into something equally useful.

Why does this happen? Basically, old plastic is expensive to collect and sort and it often degrades after one or two uses. So the more certain plastics are recycled, the more toxic they become. On the other hand, making new plastic is cheap and easy to produce.


So rather than throwing plastic containers into the trash or recycling bin, try to find another use for them. Yes, they'll eventually wear out, but keeping them out of the landfill for a few months or years is still helpful. Here are seven ingenious ways to repurpose those plastic containers.

1. Use for Storage

This may be the most obvious use for an old plastic container, and different ones can serve different purposes:

  • Keep your old pill bottles and fill them with shampoo, conditioner or lotion when traveling. This saves space in your suitcase, and most pill bottles are the proper size for airport security.
  • Tall, thin containers, such as those holding lemonade packets, are great for storing pens, pencils and markers on your work bench.
  • Put leftover paint in an old peanut butter jar for handy use when touching up small spots on your wall. Peanut butter jars take up a lot less space in your basement or garage than paint cans, too.
  • Yogurt cups are great for corralling small items in your drawers, such as wine charms, tacks, hair ties and coins. Use them in the fridge to hold easy-to-lose products like garlic cloves.


2. Make a Pet Scooper

An easy way to feed your pet is to measure out their normal daily food allotment, then dump it into an old plastic container. Mark the container at the food line. You can either use the entire container to quickly scoop up the food to the food line or cut the container at the food line to create a perfectly sized scoop.

To make a scoop for your dog's poop, take an old laundry detergent bottle that has a handle, then cut off the bottom, leaving the handle intact. This large scooper also works as a beach bucket toy — but create a separate scoop for each purpose!


3. Water Your Plants

If you travel a lot for work, set up an irrigation system so your plants can water themselves. To water a flower bed, start with a 2-liter (68-fluid-ounce) soda bottle. (If you're just watering one small plant, use an 8-ounce or 12-ounce [236- to 550-milliliter] bottle.) Punch one small hole, using a nail, into the bottle's cap. Fill the bottle with water and screw on the cap. Bury the bottle upside down, about 2 inches (5 centimeters) into the soil. This should keep your plants watered for two to three days. There are several variations on this project. You can find more options in the video below.

And when you get back, you can water the plants yourself using a homemade watering can. Wash out an old gallon (3.8-liter) milk jug, then use a hammer and nail to make small holes in the lid, plus another small hole in the handle of the bottle (this allows air to get in, which helps with the water flow). Fill the jug with water, and you're ready to go. You can make a smaller watering can with a quart-sized jug for any pint-sized assistants you may have.


4. Save for Gift Packaging

Here are some reuses for those clamshell containers that commonly show up at grocery stores:

  • Want a handy way to bring hors d'oeuvres to your neighbor's party? Place them in one of those large, lidded containers that typically hold items such as pre-cut fruit or veggies and dip.
  • Line old lettuce containers with wax paper or foil to cover the venting, then fill with holiday cookies to gift to your friends.
  • If you're mailing delicate items, put them in a plastic container first, then put the container in a box and cushion with bubble wrap or shredded paper.


5. Store Leftovers or Lunch

Restaurant takehome container
Restaurant take-home containers can be used to store other foods too. Gus And/Shutterstock

Plastic containers with well-fitting lids are great for storing leftovers. Think whipped butter containers, frozen whipped topping containers and restaurant take-home boxes. They're also great for delivering food to others since there's no need to fret about getting your container back. And what if you want to bring a sandwich to eat at the airport but don't want it to get squished in your backpack? Stick it in one of these containers.


6. Downsize Bulk Goods

Buying in bulk can save you money, but that 25-pound (11-kilogram) bag of rice probably won't fit into your cupboard. Instead, transfer a small portion of the rice into a plastic container for handy kitchen storage, stashing the rest in a closet or your basement until you need more.


7. Get Crafty

The possibilities are endless when it comes to reusing plastic containers in your crafting. But to help get the wheels turning, here a few ideas (find full instructions by clicking on the links):

  • Save gallon milk jugs to create a Halloween decoration dubbed Mr. Bottle Bones, a charming skeleton. Every part of the milk jug gets used to make this.
  • Create snowflake designs by cutting off the wavy bottoms from plastic bottles, then use a silver, white or blue paint pen to decorate those bottoms. Punch a small hole for a hook or ribbon and hang up as part of your winter décor.
  • To create a cute jet pack for a toddler's Halloween costume, paint a pair of 2-liter bottles silver (the fuel containers), then cut some red and yellow foam into jagged shapes (the flames). Stuff the foam into the bottle openings, then affix the bottles to a stiff piece of cardboard fitted with roping so the child can slip it on like a backpack.