Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Week Eighteen--Leftovers and Storage

When I was a kid, my mom had the knack for turning any container into something that could hold leftovers. In my mind it was normal to reuse the plastic tubs that yogurt or margarine came in, or even Chinese food containers, for storing the remnants of that night's dinner. More often than not, one of my parents would bring those leftovers to work the next day for lunch.

Of course, any Pyrex dish in which she'd cooked something--and which had a cover--was fair game for leftovers, too. I don't think my mother ever spent a penny to purchase a Tupperware, yet we always had plenty of places to put our leftovers.

In addition, my mom was a big Velveeta cheese fan, and any drawer organizers we had in the house were those rectangular Velveeta boxes--without the cheese, of course. She also turned jelly jars into glasses, and reused baby jars for storing thumbtacks and other objects.

As I wrote on The Lean Green Family in "Neat and Tidy and Green," it's fine to find receptacles that you already own for storing household items. Heck, even professional organizers do it.

So this week as you think about green ways to store leftovers or to reuse food containers, I'd like you to think about creative storage uses for everything from coffee cans to those Velveeta boxes.

Please note: while my mother liked to reuse plastic tubs for storage, I don't believe that this is safe in the long run--especially if you clean those items in the dishwasher. Sooner or later the plastic is going to start breaking down, and who knows what kinds of chemicals might leech into your food. These plastic tubs were made for single-use only, so err on the side of caution and recycle them.

In the meantime you might want to check out these nifty plastic food storage containers from Recycline that are made out of recycled plastic.


Debbie said...

I've gone around my house looking for examples of this I already do and hope other people will post their examples, too.
* Bookshelves - pantry storage, cookbook storage, small appliance storage
* Dresser - arts and crafts storage
* Shoeboxes - rarely used shoes, bills, letters, stationary,
* Envelopes - shopping lists (and I put relevant coupons inside), receipts (and then I put the envelopes in a shoebox)
* Pitchers (could also use vases) for spatulas
* Nails in the wall - pan lids, trivets, cookie cutters, scissors, a loop of measuring spoons, potholders, necklaces, belts, colender, apple corer, small pan
* Cardboard boxes - clothes that don't match anything I have right now, that need to be mended, or are in a size I hope to be soon
* Plastic tub from potato salad - plastic lids (I've also seen people use shoe boxes or other plastic containers
* Plate rack - pan lids
* Hangers - tablecloths (hung on them like pants) (I've also hung sheets like this--this is good if you have more hanging space than shelf or drawer space)
* Pillowcases - sheets (to keep the whole set together and to keep them from getting dusty)
* Refrigerator (or oven) handle - hand towel
* Spice jars (votive candle holders might work, too) - safety pins, paper clips, buttons
* Mugs - pens, spare change, silverware and plastic silverware
* Hanging file folders - thin sweater for when my office gets cold, cloth bags to use for shopping, maps, menus
You could also use cans, teapots, or plant pots for pencils or spatulas and egg cartons for jewelry.

Leah Ingram said...


Wow! What an incredible list you've got. Thank you for generously sharing all of this with us.

FYI, I just started storing sheet sets in pillowcases, too (learned this trick on FlyLady.net). Not only does this let me know right away that I've got enough sheets to make the beds--or that I need to do laundry--but also it allowed me to clean out my linen closet and donated the orphaned sheets and pillowcases that no longer belonged to sets and which were cluttering my closet. I brought these donations to my local SPCA.

meeegan said...

This is more a transportatioon solution than a storage one, but --

I reuse plastic produce bags (the kind that you find on a roll in the produce section) week after week, at the grocery store and the farmer's market.

If they get a little messy with berry juice or something, it's easy to wash them clean and hang them up to dry.

I also reuse plastic yogurt containers for leftover food storage and transport, especially for things that don't need to be heated up. I'm trying not to use any disposable plastic wrap or baggies, so I get creative with substitutes.

Since I don't have a dishwasher, I wash the containers by hand, figuring that water cool enough for handwashing will also leave the plastic intact.

Leah Ingram said...


Thanks for letting us know how you reuse those plastic produce bags.
Quick question: where or how do you hang them up to dry? I've washed out these kinds of bags before but could never figure out a good place to dry them without making my kitchen look like a plastic disaster area!

meeegan said...

I stand wooden spoons upright in my dishrack, then drape each bag over a spoon to air-dry. It looks a little odd, but it doesn't take up much space or drip water all over the place.

Daisy said...

We don't buy Velveeta cheese, but I remember well how those boxes were great organizers. I have an older bookshelf in the basement that is now my gift-wrapping center. I don't wrap there, but everything I need for wrapping is on those shelves and accessible.