Have you ordered takeout in the past 48 hours? I have (the most fantastic chicken nachos…don’t get me started). It was served in an aluminum foil bowl with a clear plastic lid.
Given my proclivity for chicken nachos lately, I have a healthy supply of single-use takeout containers — enough to start my own food truck, if I knew how to cook.
But takeout containers don’t have to be single-use. With a little ingenuity, they can be reused in surprising ways all around the house.
A few of the following ideas involve ways to store and share food. But remember, safety comes first. Some plastic containers aren’t designed for ongoing food storage, and others may leach harmful chemicals when microwaved. This handy plastics guide from Eartheasy, a website devoted to sustainable living, can help you determine the safest way to reuse different types of material.
1. Seed-starter trays
It’s almost poetic to repurpose single-use takeout containers to help something grow. Use clear plastic “clamshell” containers to create mini-terrariums. Poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage, plant, and close the lid. Light can get through, but moisture is trapped — creating an ideal environment for delicate shoots.
And the folks at website TreeHugger suggest using paper coffee cups as seed-starters. When it’s time to transfer the young plants, remove only the bottom of the cup. The remaining paper will gradually decompose.
2. Storage for leftovers
Lightweight and easy to store, takeout containers are the perfect answer to that age-old question: What do I do with this half of a sandwich? No need for plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
See also: 5 Leftovers You Should Never Throw Away
3. Picnic supplies
Why buy new disposable plates when you can reuse a restaurant freebie? Plastic, aluminum, and polystyrene takeout containers are more durable than standard paper plates and are easy to pack. Even better, the lids will keep the flies out of your potato salad.
See also: How to Plan the Perfect Summer Picnic for Less
4. Home organization
Control the chaos! Use takeout containers to keep things organized around the house.
Those tiny oyster pails that white rice comes in are perfect for holding sewing and craft supplies. Use larger containers to organize pens, paperclips, rubber bands, and whatever else ends up in the “junk drawer.”
5. Food sharing
Baked a dozen cookies or made a lasagna so delicious it just has to be shared? Use takeout containers to spread the love (and divide the calories). No need to worry about getting back that favorite casserole dish or piece of Tupperware.
6. Kids’ activity kits
Road trip! Large paper takeout boxes are the perfect size for custom-made activity kits for kids. Fill with crayons, sticky notes, a deck of cards, and a toy or two. It’s enough to keep little hands occupied in between all those bathroom breaks.
7. Painters’ palette
Wide, flat plastic and polystyrene containers are perfect for mixing small batches of paint. Just rinse and reuse (I’ve been using the same one for more than a year). Bonus: Plastic bowls with snug-fitting lids can help keep paint fresh during long projects.
8. Rearranging furniture
In a pinch, takeout containers made of rigid plastic work well as furniture sliders on carpet.
Simply cut the lids off of two hinged burger boxes, then slip each of the four pieces under the legs of a couch or chair. With less friction, it will be easier to move each piece.
9. Helping the homeless
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 582,462 people experiencing homelessness in January of 2022. Though a national solution to this crisis seems stubbornly out of reach, we can each make small efforts to help the unhoused.
Takeout containers (especially large oyster pails with handles) are ideal for creating care packages. Fill with energy bars, dried fruit, and travel-size containers of basic toiletries. I keep a few of these packs in my car so I can quickly pass them to homeless individuals positioned at busy intersections.
10. Meal kits for pets
Have a dog with special dietary needs or a cat that’s just plain finicky? When going out of town, use small takeout containers to store individually prepared meals. Your pet and pet-sitter will thank you.
If your furry friend is joining you on the road, toss a few takeout containers in the trunk. They work well as watering bowls.
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