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.
12. Rice and other dry goods. I buy a wide variety of rice types—brown, Jasmine and Arborio—and like to use lightweight plastic jars to keep them all sorted on the shelf of my lazy Susan cabinet. You could also store instant potatoes, biscuit mix, pancake mix or any other dry goods in them, especially if you buy in bulk bags and want to make sure they are well-sealed against pests after opening them.
13. Ammo. Depending upon your own collection and needs, one or more empty peanut butter jars is a handy go-to for storing a variety of ammo sizes and shapes.
14. Craft supplies. Craft paints, paintbrushes and paint pens, decals, tapestry needles, rug hooks, wooden and ceramic pieces, crochet hooks, stitch counters, scissors, tape measures—whatever you do, jars are a good way to contain the small pieces and tools you need.
15. Livestock and pet meds. Sturdy plastic jars are an excellent choice for needles and syringes—designate one for new and another for used to make storage and disposal safe and easy. You also can use them to store animal medications and vaccines, especially if you keep them in your refrigerator and want to make sure they stay separate from people food. Try them also for diatomaceous earth or other supplements and top dress products.
16. Health and beauty products. Emery boards, tweezers, clippers, all sorts of hair accessories, makeup, cotton balls and Q-tips go great in jars.
17. Seeds and garden supplies. For leftover seed packets, along with spare row markers and soil thermometers and pocket magnifiers and other gardening paraphernalia, upcycled jars are just the ticket.
18. Small toys and parts. Jars are a good way to keep building blocks, doll shoes, miniature cars, playing cards, game pieces, dice and lots of other entertainment items out of the bottom of the toy box and safe from the vacuum cleaner.
19. Disposable uses. Peanut butter jars are perfect for temporary mixing and storing of items such as wood finish treatments, soaking paint brushes and other gooey jobs. They are solid enough for one-time use, and they save you having to use your expensive dishes and containers.
20. Coffee, tea and drink mixes. Jars are a great way to keep them corralled so they don’t scatter and leak and get lost all through the cupboard.
21. Camping. In my backpacking days, I carried peanut butter jars a lot. They were excellent for carrying my portable stove, preventing food from being mashed, keeping a lid on the smell of yucky trash, and even as an extra spare water container in a pinch. Family camping can benefit from recycled jars, too, helping keep kids’ treasures and tent parts and fishing lures separated.
22. Snacks. Everything from dried fruits to candy to homemade granola—it all fits nicely into a jar and looks great on the counter.
23. Frozen goods. For long-term freezer use, it is wise to use containers specifically made for the freezer. But for popping a few dozen cookies into the freezer for a couple of weeks, empty peanut butter jars are perfect. They prevent the contents from being squished and are easily opened and closed for just a handful at a time.
There are likely dozens more uses for empty peanut butter jars not included on this list. I have kept mine for years and have used them over and over. Give some of these ideas a try, and peanut butter jars may become your favorite upcycling project.
What uses would you add to our list? Share them in the section below: