[8/25/17] Even though I try to raise much of my own food, I still end up with a few empty food containers. The combination of my old-fashioned waste-not, want-not upbringing and my strong commitment to conserving resources means that I usually try very hard to reuse and upcycle whenever possible.
Whenever I can repurpose a jar, I do. Peanut butter jars are among my favorites to save, and there are a ton of uses for them. I usually buy the big four-pound size, but the smaller ones are useful for many of the same purposes. The larger jars have nice wide lids which allow easy cleaning and convenient access, and the short squat shape makes them excellent for stacking.
The labels can be a little challenging to clean off, but the key is persistence, elbow grease and really hot water. If you use a dishwasher, try removing the jars as soon as the cycle ends—the bits of paper and glue still attached will be soft and more able to be scraped off at that point.
The lightweight sturdy plastic makes them work great for hanging the jars on the bottoms of shelves and cabinets. Here is how to do that: just remove the cardboard insert from the clean lid and use three evenly spaced screws to attach it, making sure your screws are so long they poke through the top of the shelf or cabinet base. Then simply fill the jar and twist it into the lid—it is just that easy! This works best for non-food items, since removing the lid for washing will be a chore you will not want to do often. It also works best for items of light to moderate weight, as a lot of weight can put added strain on the threads and make it more challenging to open and close.
One other thing to consider when using peanut butter jars for storage is this: Plastic can take on an odor after being stored for a long time. Use discernment when switching back and forth from strong-smelling foods—once you use it for say, coffee, it will probably always smell like coffee. You also may want to avoid long-term storage of unpackaged items. Foods that come in direct contact with the jar—as opposed to things like sugar packets and store-bought granola bars, for example—should be those which you open and use often.
Another consideration is that it is possible for oily products to interact with the plastic. If you are not going to eat the contents, it is probably not a concern. But you may want to steer clear of storing items like vegetable oil or fatty foods in them.
Following is a list of useful ideas for using peanut butter jars—either attached to shelves or freestanding—around the house, homestead, barnyard and beyond.
1. Hardware. It is always nice to keep nuts, bolts, nails and screws organized and within easy reach. The clear plastic of peanut butter jars makes for easy identification at a glance.
2. Sewing notions. Buttons, snaps, Velcro strips, ric-rac, elastic, ribbons, lace and any materials you like to keep accessible for sewing projects can be easily sorted and stored in peanut butter jars.
3. Condiments. Little packets of salt, pepper, sugar, alternative sweeteners and ketchup. Whether you buy them at the store or save leftovers from take-out, it’s always nice to have some around for picnics, travel or unexpected shortages.
4. Pasta. A peanut butter jar will hold a lot of elbow noodles and ziti and more. Just a reminder—make sure the jar gets opened often enough that the pasta does not take on a plastic odor from being closed up too long.
5. Spare change. This can be super basic—just screw off the lid and drop in the contents of your pockets every day—or done up fancy. Consider creating a fancy savings bank with kids as a fun project—cut a hole in the lid to push money through without removing it, and glue the lid on if that’s the best option in your situation. You can dress the jar and lid up with paint, glitter, ribbon and glue-ons for added appeal.
6. Desk supplies. Pens, pencils, sticky note pads, paper clips and other fasteners, rubber bands, white-out tape cartridges, printer ink, spare staples and miscellaneous things are easy to keep organized and at your fingertips in recycled jars.
7. First-aid kits. Whether at home, work, or in your vehicle, a used plastic jar is a great choice to keep a small collection of Band-Aids, ointments and over-the-counter medications.
8. Dry beans. Although a label on top to indicate the variety and date of the beans is advisable, it is easy to see what you want at a glance when beans are stored in clear containers. If you eat a lot of beans, a row of matching jars with different colored beans adds a nice decorative touch in your kitchen or pantry.
9. Dog treats. I keep my treat jars attached to a cabinet bottom near the back door where the dog always gets her treats. They are up off the counter and not taking up cabinet space, are not at risk of being knocked over onto the floor, and are easy to access when I want them.
10. Kids’ art supplies. Jars are a good way to help keep crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, markers, scissors and erasers tidy and organized.
11. Vehicle emergency kits. Jars are perfect for granola bars, tealight candles, sheets of aluminum foil, matches, penlight flashlights, spare batteries and any other items you keep in the trunk of your car for that just-in-case situation.