One of my favorite life hacks is reusing packaging from purchased items or shipping. It’s a great way to extend the life of something manufactured for a single use AND it can save you money if it replaces an item on your shopping list.

1- Use glass jars to for storage.

Ok, so this isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea. But while Pinterest is full of images of Mason jars “repurposed” to hold markers or store drygoods, it’s way more economical to save and clean out glass jars from pickles, olives, salsa or any other purchased food. Unlike Mason jars, food jars have a one-piece threaded cap, which can be easier to open and close.

You can make this as basic or as elevated as you want. On a fundamental level, just finish up the contents of the jar, wash and dry completely and put whatever you desire into it. To step it up, soak the jar in a bowl of very hot, soapy water to remove the paper label. That’s what I usually do, since I do prefer to see clearly what’s in my jars and not have old labels peeling off. It’s easy to make a new label, if you wish. Options include a simple piece of masking tape (great if you’ll be swapping the contents often) or a variety of printable, customizable stick-on labels.

2. Start Seeds in Plastic or Cardboard Containers

I love this and I do it all the time. The very first year I decided to start seeds instead of buying plants, I spent a lot of money on little individual seed starting pods. I think I spent as much money on tiny pots as I did on the actual seeds!

Then I learned how easy it is to start seeds in just about any container that’s at least a couple of inches deep. My favorite packaging for this is the black plastic trays mushrooms come in. My second favorite is plastic clamshell packaging from deli sandwhiches and the like. No matter what you use, poke a few small holes in the bottom so water can flow out freely. The clamshell packs are nice because you can close them up and make a little  greenhouse. But since you only need to keep seeds covered for a few days, it’s easy to cover the container with plastic wrap, too. You can save and reuse those pieces of plastic wrap for future seeds if you’re really committed to stamping out single use plastic.

This isn’t just limited to rectangles – containers from yogurt, sour cream, ricotta or cream cheese all work great for starting seeds. A lot of people use cardboard egg cartons to start seeds, too. The great thing about using egg cartons is that you can separate each little cup and plant the seedlings directly into their next pot. The cardboard will breakdown and allow the little roots to grow right through.

Pretty much any container will work as long as it’s at least a couple of inches deep, has a few small holes in the bottom and didn’t contain anything toxic.

3. Turn your cardboard boxes into weed control.

Weeds suck. They just keeping coming and they can take a lot of the joy out of gardening. One of the easiest ways to get rid of weeds OR to kill existing plants is sheet mulching. For many, this means using landscape fabric with mulch on top. An effective method, but one that costs money and doesn’t break down. That’s fine if you’re putting down mulch around static landscaping, like shrubs. But in flower beds or vegetable patches, a semi-permanent barrier on the soil isn’t ideal.

Enter cardboard. As long as it’s not heavily waxed or treated, you can break boxes down into flat pieces, lay them over the existing weeds or soil you want to protect, then cover with mulch. I prefer to mulch with grass clippings, compost or wood chips rather than treated hardwood mulch. The whole thing will slowly break down over the season, adding organic matter to your soil. In addition to killing unwanted growth, this method helps improve your soil.

Peel off any plastic tape or non-paper labels first, since those won’t break down and you won’t want them in the soil.

  • Do some research on ideal types of mulch for the particular area you’re covering. Nearly anything will hold the cardboard down and help it smother weeds, but there are certain materials that work best in certain applications.
  • Never use bark, grass or anything else organic that’s been treated with herbicides or pesticides as they will leach into the soil.
  • If you’re using this method to kill grass/weeds for a future planting bed, you can even get away with just weighting the cardboard with bricks or large rocks in the short term.

4. Protect your plates and dishes with bubble wrap

I don’t mean for a big move, I mean for regular storage. If you have china or dishes you don’t use everyday, odds are good at least some of them are stored in a cabinet, drawer, closet or cubby. Stacked plates or bowls should have a layer of padding between plates to prevent chipping or cracking. You can buy felt or foam circles for this, but small bubble wrap works great, too!

Just cut it to the size you need and lay pieces between your plates. If you’re using the felt circles I mentioned above, you can layer in a piece of bubble wrap for extra cushioning. This is an especially good trick for heavier plates, since it helps distribute the weight.

For larger pieces, take two pieces of bubble wrap that are at least three inches bigger than the piece on all sides. Tape or hotglue the edges together on three of the four sides, creating a bubblewrap sleeve for the piece. This is how I store some of my large, heavy serving dishes. For plain ceramic dishes, I just slide them into the bubblewrap sleeve. For finer, older or more delicate pieces, I wrap them in a few layers of tissue paper and put them very gently into the sleeve. The sleeve method works great for protecting framed photos or artwork that you’re not currently displaying, assuming they are behind glass.

This is not a good solution for silver or anything with a finish that might have a chemical reaction to plastic OR that needs to have some air circulation.

I’m focusing on bubblewrap for two reasons. One, it’s darned effective at protecting breakables and two, it’s not biodegradable, so finding a way to reuse it is super. You can use other packing materials around the house to help store fragile items, just be sure the material and the object in question can be in contact without any damage occurring (for example, newsprint can sometimes transfer ink to older china).

5.Make pinboards from thick pieces of foam padding

You know the pieces of heavy duty, closed cell foam that hold electronics or other heavy, fragile items during shipping? They make great bulletin boards. As long as the foam is at least 1″ thick and reasonably sturdy and rigid. Cut the piece of foam to the size you want, then cover with a piece of tightly woven fabric – I use small straight pins to secure the fabric, but you can also use a staple gun or glue it.

This is a great way to turn something destined for the landfill into something useful. Smaller pieces can be covered in fabric and used to hold straight pins, hat pins or anything else that’s sharp and pointy.