Paint, plant or pack them: how to use plastic takeaway containers outside the kitchen

From organising desk drawers to transporting beauty products, the leftover containers can be reused all around the home

Man holding plastic food containers

Most plastics can be recycled just once or twice to make new products before ending up in landfill.
Photograph: Karl Tapales/Getty Images

When restaurant dining rooms closed during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, takeaway took off. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene (PP) plastics used in food and drink containers are recyclable, but we know that reducing and reusing is a far better policy. Most plastics can be recycled only once or twice to make a new product before they eventually end up in landfill.

Maybe you kept a few to store food, but here are some ways to reuse disposable containers outside the kitchen.


Sugarcane container with plastic lid

Sugarcane containers can be used to create mini greenhouses. Photograph: Biopak

You may have come across these compostable sugarcane containers with clear plastic lids. Stab a few drainage holes in the bottom, fill with soil and press in seeds 2cm deep and 4cm apart. Put the lid back on to create a mini greenhouse in the cool months and remove it once you see sprouts. When the seedlings have their first true leaves (the leaves after the initial two), they can be repotted – or simply bury the entire container, as it will decompose. Use plastic cutlery (which is not recyclable due to its weight) as stakes to help plants grow straight.

Hold on to all-plastic containers to use as much-needed water baths for birds and insects in summer.


A succulent planted in a takeaway container

A succulent can be planted in an old takeaway container wrapped in paper as a cheap alternative to a ceramic pot. Photograph: fottodk/Getty Images/iStock

Cylindrical plastic containers are a cheap alternative to ceramic pots. Punch a hole in the bottom, wrap them in butcher’s paper and twine, wrapping paper or old fabric (like the cuff of a jeans’ leg); add soil and a small cactus or succulent, and place on a plate to catch drained water. Just make sure you don’t wrap the bottom or it will rot.

Decorate bowl containers similarly and you have an accident-proof spot for your keys by the door or dried flowers or air plants on your coffee table.


Compartmentalise your drawers and prevent cable tangles with individually labelled containers. Prepackaged chargers come in handy when travelling.

Kids’ room

Everything can be organised and labelled in stackable, lightweight containers – and they’re portable. Glue some flat Lego pieces to the underside of a plastic lid to act as a base, fill the container with blocks, and you have on-the-go entertainment.

Lids also make great paint palettes that are easy to wash and reuse; or use containers as trays for paint rollers.

Bathroom and laundry

Plastic and other food containers on a table

Takeaway sauce containers are useful for making and storing DIY beauty products. Photograph: Shana Novak/Getty Images

Cleaning products can be purchased in bulk from stores like the Source all around Australia – just BYO vessel. Opt for concentrates in small amounts and dilute at home. Sauce containers work well for mixing DIY products such as body scrub with spent coffee grounds, lip scrub, shampoo or face masks. Although it’s not much of a concern at the moment, sauce containers are usually under 100ml, so can also be used to transport very viscous beauty products like balms and gels when travelling.

If you still have a surplus, ask your local kindergarten, primary school or arts centre if they’ll accept donations.

To find out what products are recyclable, check out the Australian Council of Recycling’s Recycle Mate app or Planet Ark’s Recycling Near You site.

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