The Joys of Reuse: My Love Affair with Jars

jar of raspberry shrub in the making, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

If you do one thing this year to change your relationship with stuff, may I suggest a love affair with glass jars? They’re readily available, affordable, food safe, easy to clean, infinitely reusable, eligible for closed loop recycling – They’re the perfect foundation for lower waste household storage and life in general.

kimchi and brine in reused jars, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

I love jars.

How much do I love jars?

A lot. Very much. Most ardently.

Here’s what some of our jars were filled with over the last week:

In the fridge: bulk peanut butter, homemade kimchi, leftover soup, leftover pasta, cheese, raspberry and rhubarb shrub, salad dressing, jam, homemade yogurt, half a lemon, and almost everything else.

In the pantry: spices, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit, tea, coconut oil, grape seed oil, home-fermented fruit scrap vinegar, popcorn (both kernels and popped, in separate jars), honey, dried beans, cookies, and more.

In the freezer: berries picked last summer, broth, pesto, freezer jams, soup and chili cooked ahead for future fast dinners, tomato sauce, cooked beans saved for future fast tacos and burritos, cooked pumpkin, bananas that went mushy-ripe before we could eat them, captured for future desserts.

plastic-free baking soda soap in an upcycled pasta sauce jar, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

By the kitchen sink: baking soda instead of plastic-bottled dish soap (it really works), DIY dishwasher detergent, choice scraps of food for our hens.

In the bathroom: homemade zero waste toothpaste (actually it’s a powder, but that doesn’t rhyme), grated bars of soap (my recently created goop-free alternative to liquid hand soap in plastic packaging), bar shampoo, coconut oil (our favorite lotion and lip balm in one), baking soda deodorant, cotton balls, and marbles (a favorite bathtub toy of my daughters and the cat).

little jars at work in the bathroom, holding soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and lotion, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

Other uses:

We use jars for to-go drinks hot (coffee, tea, hot chocolate) and cold (horchata, Italian sodas, good old water) – We haven’t met a barista yet who isn’t happy to fill our jars instead of the standard coffee shop plastic-lined paper cup. And the screw-on lids are way more secure in the car than the hard plastic variety; no more traveling spills when we round corners or wrestle with potholes.

Jars are perfect for tadpole transport. We raised 8 for a while in an old fish tank; when they were ready to move to our friends’ larger pond, two jars got them there safely. They’re the classic temporary home for all sorts of small insects who can survive a summer afternoon of scrutiny in a bug jar before they’re returned to the wild.

tadpole transport jars, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

According to Merriam-Webster, jars are typically glass or earthenware. While I’d love some earthenware jars, all of mine are glass: Mason jars from Freecycle, thrift stores, garage sales, and the summer canning season sales at our local grocery and hardware stores; re-used glass jars from pasta sauce, salsa, jam, pickles, mayonnaise, grape leaves – Any glass jar that comes with a lid is put to use after use around here.

A few years ago, I only dabbled in jars. I scorned anything with a narrow mouth and sent those out with my recycling. I had a section of my food container cabinet for glass, but most of the cabinet was filled with square and round plastic containers in a variety of sizes, the clear ones with the blue lids (if you live in North America, I’m guessing you know just the ones).

Then came some studies about plastics leaching chemicals into food. I stopped storing wet foods in my plastic containers, saving them for dry goods. Then came that first day at the beach with our friends who wanted to share what they’d found, all the plastic trash they couldn’t believe. I started saving any jar with a matching lid; no longer did they head straight into my recycling bin. I got a good deal on Mason jars by the case during canning season, using them for dry goods, frozen foods, leftovers in the fridge, to-go coffee and tea. I saved a bunch from a grumpy old man who was trying to toss them into a rummage sale dumpster. I answered every Freecycle offer of jars and got lucky a few times, free jars!

I haul my jars with me to the grocery store (I slip clean old socks and sweater sleeves around them to prevent breakage) and fill them with bulk goods, wet and dry, then they go straight into their home storage spots – The same jar can be packaging, storage container, even serving piece.

marmalade jar turned into hot chocolate to-go cup with the help of a felted wool sweater sleeve cuff, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

I love our jars. They’re easy to clean, either by hand or in the dishwasher. I can easily see what leftovers are lurking in our fridge, or how much cocoa powder I have left. They’re quite sturdy, they feel good, and I love the way they look. And except for the bisphenol A lining the lids, they’re plastic-free. When it comes to living with less plastic, jars are incredibly useful and versatile, they’re almost plastic-free, and they make me happy. I bet they’d make you happy, too.

Looking for 30+ more ideas for mason jar reuses? Please visit our Trash Backwards web app where you can find reuse inspirations for just about everything!

Click through to see 30+ mason jar reuses!

If you have jar reuses to contribute to our app or here please send us your ideas.

(Material in this post was first published by Rock Farmer; it is republished with permission in hope of further spreading the joy of reused jars)

Categories: Trash Pile - All Our Stuff


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  1. 10 Toughest Steps to Reduce Your Plastic Impact | Trash Backwards - February 28, 2013

    […] Stop buying plastic containers and come to love glass. I love glass containers of all sizes and can’t find anything that I can’t store in […]

  2. 10 Toughest Steps to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint | Pioneering The Simple Life - February 24, 2016

    […] Stop buying plastic containers and come to love glass. I love glass containers of all sizes and can’t find anything that I can’t store in […]

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