Saturday, April 24, 2010

Repurposing- Reusable Lunch Containers

One day while making DH's lunch, it occurred to me that I use 4 resealable baggies every DAY for his lunch- and every day all 4 of them get thrown away. That's 20 a week coming out of our pockets and going straight to the local landfill. And we all know that plastic degrades so fast. Sure, I have some GladWare, and I repurpose my snap top yogurt, margarine, etc. containers into "tupperware"- but the trouble is that those containers so infrequently make it back home. And sometimes when they do, they are horrifying.

So when I happened upon instructions for making reusable lunch containers out of plastic milk jugs, I was super excited. Here is something I always have a ton of (we probably go through 3 gallons of milk a week and I keep them to make tea in, store my laundry detergent, and all sorts of other things) that can be made into something I need. And the best part? If they get nasty, you just toss them in the recycle box and make a new one.

To make one of these handy little things (sandwich size), you'll need a clean plastic gallon milk jug. I rinse mine out with a bit of water, shake it up and use that to water my plants- they LOVE it. Then one more rinse and I consider it clean, and put it in the drying rack upside down. However you do it, just make sure it's clean of milk- BELIEVE me, you will not want to put your lunch in a box that smells of sour milk. You'll also need a permanent marker, a thumbtack (not the flat kind, the kind with the little handle), and a heavy duty pair of scissors. You can also use self-adhesive velcro dots to secure it closed. I skipped the velcro, since I didn't want to put any money into these, but they're certainly a lot easier to use than the method I tried the first time- which was to make a sort of "chinese take out" hook closure. To make a snack sized box, you'll need all of the above, but instead of a gallon size milk jug, you'll want to use a juice or milk carton in any size from half pint to half gallon.

First, mark your pattern on the jug with the marker. Then use the scissors (I use kitchen shears) to cut along the lines. I first punch a hole with the tip of the scissors in the side of the jug and roughly cut away most of the waste. Then I go back and cut along the lines neatly. Seems easier that way, it's hard to control the scissors around curves when the top of the jug is still attached as it's thicker plastic.

Next, measure about 1 3/4 inches up from the bottom of the jug and use the thumbtack to punch holes about 1/8 inch apart all the way around. Try to punch in a straight line, you'll be using these perforations to fold the flaps of the box.

Then carefully fold and pinch along the perforations. Then open it up and fold the opposite way, and then repeat. This will loosen up the plastic and make it easier to open and close.

Lastly, figure out your closure. Really, you don't NEED a closure. The box holds closed pretty well on its own so long as its not going to be experiencing a lot of jostling or tossing back and forth. Certainly the self-adhesive velcro closures are the easiest way to fasten them. You can also try any number of tab and slot or cut closures. I'm not sure I'm terribly impressed with my cut/tab&slot closures. Maybe if I had an actual chinese take out box to model it after they would work better. I would say that by far the most effective free closure has been to cut a "T" in the small flap that is opposite the large flap. Then fold the arms of the T in, and mark that place on the big flap, and carefully (carefully) cut the lines with a box knife. Then the box can be folded up, and the flaps on the T can be tucked into the slots. This holds pretty well.

For the snack box you'll do exactly the same thing, but the flaps will be of equal size.

Sure, they're not so great if you want to send soup. But that's when you bust out the handy Cool Whip tub :P


  1. OMG Jen, that is ingenious! We don't have such big jugs over her (excuse the phrase LOL) but I'll be whipping up some of these!