What do you do with the plastic containers that you get from the deli when you buy potato salad or hummus? Most of the ones that I get are a #5 plastic, which is recyclable but is not accepted in the curbside recycling program in my town. That’s not unusual. The majority of curbside recycling programs only take #1 and #2 plastics.

Sometimes, like at the small deli where I get really great soup, I can take my own container. They are happy to put their soup in my quart container instead of giving me one of the Styrofoam quart containers that they provide. But other times, like at the grocery store, I don’t have the option to take my own container. If I decide to get something from the deli, I have to use their throw away container.

Besides throwing the containers away, what else can be done with them? Here are some ideas for reusing them at least once before they hit the trash.

  • Wash them and reuse them. I have a stack of containers like deli containers on a shelf in my basement. When I’m giving food away or divvying up Thanksgiving leftover, they come in handy. You want to make sure not to heat food in these containers. They are likely to melt. Even if they don’t melt, the heat may cause any toxins in the plastic to leach into your food.
  • If you make your own stock, they are also useful for storing stock in small portions. Leave a little room at the top for expansion, but not too much room or you may end up with freezer burn.
  • Use them as dry bulk storage for things like beans, rice, or grains that you buy from the bulk bins. If you’re anything like me, you may buy a grain from the bulk bin and put it in a container, then forgot exactly what grain you bought. You can write the name of the grain on the container without feeling bad about it.
  • Use them as planters for seedlings. Keep them stacked up until the spring then punch drainage holes in the bottom, fill with good soil, and get your veggie garden started early.
  • Small deli containers are great for when you're walking a dog and need a small bowl for water or food. (via OregonLive)

If you're looking for a way to recycle these containers, here are two options.

  • Some Whole Foods accept #5 plastics at their store for recycling. They have bins where the plastics can be dropped off. You can find which locations take the plastics at the Preserve Gimme 5 site.
  • Another great website that can help you find a place to recycle deli containers and other #5 plastics is Earth 911.  

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Kitchen recycling tip: Deli containers
Get a second use out of those potato salad containers before they get disposed of.