Regardless of size or composition, most plastic storage bins have one thing in common: they are hard to recycle.
Plastic storage bins can be small, like the type you use for storing food or trinkets. And they can be quite large, like the kind you use to keep Christmas decorations, sporting goods and seasonal clothing in your garage. They can be solid to keep air, moisture and animals out of your things. They can also be more like baskets, which makes it easier to see what is in them and prevents moisture and smells from getting trapped.
Regardless of size or composition, most plastic storage bins have one thing in common: they are hard to recycle. Plastic storage bins cannot go in your curbside recycling bin. For one thing, large ones will not fit. It is also highly unlikely that your curbside recycling program is set up to recycle these items. They are typically much more interested in things like plastic water bottles, cottage cheese tubs, laundry soap bottles and milk cartons.
That means you will need to look into other ways to recycle – or reuse – old plastic storage bins. We have some helpful hints on where to begin looking.
How to recycle plastic storage bins
Many county governments have alternative places to take plastic items for recycling. See if yours is one of them, and if they will accept plastic storage containers. Newton (MA) and Santa Cruz are just a few of the places that list plastic storage containers among the difficult to recycle items they will accept.
You can expand your search beyond government organizations too. Many private companies run recycling programs. Search online or in the phone book for the closest one to you. Or see if your local recycling coordinator or waste management agency has a suggestion of where you should take plastic storage containers. Recycle Nation’s Recycle Search tool is a great way to locate recyclers of all types near you.
Buy plastic storage bins made of recycled plastic
The next time you go to buy plastic storage bins, purchase ones made from recycled plastic. That will reduce your carbon footprint and might even support a really great organization.
Case in point: TerraCycle, which recycles everything from plastic pens to plastic water filters and pitchers. They make plastic storage bins from the different recycled materials they gather. Find their products at stores such as Target or Walmart, or buy them on the TerraCycle website.
Office Depot sells a box for documents or other office necessities made with 100% recycled plastic. Their Really Useful Boxes can also be really useful around the home.
How to reuse plastic storage bins
The great thing about plastic storage bins is they are quite easy to reuse. If your plastic storage bins are still in good shape, and you simply do not have a use for them anymore, there are many places you can take them for reuse. Thrift stores should have no problem selling them to their customers and might even appreciate them for their own use.
Local charities, child care centers, senior centers and schools may be able to use plastic storage containers of all sizes. Call around to places you are familiar with, or place them on a website such as Freecycle or an online material exchange in your area.
If your plastic storage containers are missing lids or are in poor shape, you still might be able to find uses for them around the house. Put a beat-up, lidless plastic container in an outdoor shed and use it to keep garden supplies, pesticides and herbicides organized. Put a similar container in the garage for storing your dog’s gear or muddy shoes. Keep one in the back of your car and use it to store the kids’ sandy or wet clothes when you leave the beach or splash park.
If you have ever thought about starting a worm bin, a large plastic container with a lid is an ideal home for your worms. It will not mold or break down over time like a wood bin. And since you already own the bins, it will be much less expensive than purchasing a brand new one. The Oregon State University Extension Service has free instructions for building a worm bin from old plastic containers.
Another great way to put plastic storage bins to use it holding the recyclable materials you cannot place in your curbside recycling bin. I keep a tall storage bin in my garage for storing film plastic. When it fills up, I take it to our local recycling center. I also have a smaller container for collecting baby food pouches and the other items I send to TerraCycle.
Alternatives to plastic storage bins
There are certain things you do not want to keep in plastic storage bins. Antique linens need to breathe, so they should go in acid-free fabric boxes with acid-free tissue paper.
Clothing made of leather and fur will also do better in cloth bags than plastic bags. If you want to store comforters, wool blankets and other household items in containers to keep them dust-free, look for storage containers made of natural materials and not plastic. Clothing and textile storage bags are available at places like The Container Store and department stores.
Seeds for your garden should also not go in a plastic storage container with a lid. You can stand them up in a long, shallow container so they are easy to flip through and find.