I've been thinking a lot about this subject lately. Recycling has been in vogue for at least a couple of decades now. It was popularized in the 70's by the environmentalists and ecologists to slow the volume of waste going into our landfills. But then a few entrepreneurial minded folks recognized our society's throw-away mentality as the next big business opportunity and recycling evolved into a huge industry in its own right. Most of us prefer to buy our favorite consumables in convenience sizes which ultimately means more packaging for the same volume. The recyclers love that about us.
As preppers, we strive to store food and necessary supplies so we will be able to take care of ourselves and our families in a crisis situation. Whether the crisis is short-term or long-term, a natural disaster or manmade doesn't really matter. When you're in a crisis, your resources and viable solutions are far more important than the cause of the crisis. If you've been storing food for any length of time, you're bound to have had some issues with space and packaging. We are fortunate to have a large indoor pantry and lots of extra closet space in the house. We also have an air conditioned storage barn on site that has made an ideal storage area for food stuffs and supplies. Packaging has been our big challenge. Once you start storing food stuffs outside, you have to be ever vigilant about rodents and bugs.
We use several layers of packaging to protect the food items as much as possible. Most everything is kept in its original packaging but then re-boxed in plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids. If you have cats and buy a lot of cat litter, the big squarish buckets of litter have hinged half lids that snap down fairly tight. We've saved those cat litter buckets for years and used them to carry gear or food stuffs when we went camping. But they've worked out great for the food stores now as well.
Yeoldfurt has been working on a written inventory of our stores and that got us both to thinking how we are storing things and how many items we have 're-purposed' to suit our new prepper lifestyle. The cat litter buckets are just one example, but there are so many others now. I posted a few months ago about filling clean two-liter soda bottles with dry goods like flour, sugar and salt. Before realizing how useful the two-liter bottles were for storage, I had been in the habit of buying soda in 12 packs of 12-oz cans. Those cans are of no use to me after they're empty, but the two-liter bottles had repurpose value. So now I buy two two-liter bottles instead of my one 12 pack of cans.
Here are a few other things I've found that have high repurpose value:
Liquid Laundry Soap in 174 oz Jugs I love liquid laundry soap because it's easier to measure, and it disperses more readily in the washing process so it never cakes or leaves residue on your clothes. If you buy it in the big 174 oz jugs with both a screw lid and push-button spigot on one end, save those empty jugs. It's nearly impossible to drain them completely of the soap product. So when I've used them up, I fill them with water and label them 'Wash Water.' There will be enough residual soap in there to make sudsy water for washing anything from hands to silverware and dishes. No, it won't be hot water and, yes, it's laundry soap not dish soap ...but it's soap. In a SHTF situation, it may be the best thing you've got.
Wide-mouth Glass or Plastic Jars The 48-oz wide-mouth Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise jars are one of my favorites. The wide mouth makes them easy to fill and easy to access. I like to store spaghetti or angel hair pasta in them. I wash the jar and lid, removing the label and the cardboard 'gasket' under the lid. Make sure the jar is very dry, then break the pasta strands in half and put them in the jar. I realize 'breaking pasta' is a no-no in some circles, but I need to cook so little at a time for just Yeoldfurt and me that I usually only boil water in a 2 quart sauce pan. I end up having to break the pasta to fit it into the pan anyway, so I might as well store it that way. But I like these jars because they are made of thick food-grade plastic with good memory (holds its shape), and they are flat on the sides so they can be stored upright or laid flat.
Plastic Gallon Milk Jugs with Screw Tops Most people buy milk in plastic jugs these days. Whether you buy quart or gallon jugs, try to buy only jugs that have screw, not snap on, lids. It only takes a little pressure to pop the top on a snap on lid and there's nothing worse than having something you went to all the trouble to store get wasted because a lid pops off. Even if you just store water in the jug, in a SHTF situation, water will be as precious as anything else you've stored. If you have two jugs, one with a screw top and one with a snap on lid, and you just tip them both over ...the one with the snap on lid will usually come open. If you laid it very carefully on it's side, it might hold for a little while, but eventually it will leak from the sheer water pressure against it. The screw lid will hold as long as the jug itself holds. They're the same price, so buy the one with the screw top because that suits your repurpose need better.
Industrial Buckets for Food Items A lot of the supplements we buy for the horses come in 10 or 20 or 30 pound pails. These buckets are heavy food-grade plastic with bales strong enough to support the weight of product in the bucket and lids that usually have real gaskets in them. We've used them for years to tote supplies or food that did not require ice when we were camping. The empty buckets are a good size for a stool when you're out camping too. Now that we're prepping, they make great 'outer wrap' for food items we want to store long term. The key to using them for storage is good labeling. I like a label on the side AND on the lid. If we store several things in one bucket, Yeoldfurt lists them on the labels. Then if we use an item out of the bucket, he crosses it off.
Industrial Buckets for Non-Food Items All of the home improvement stores and most of the department store that have a paint section sell empty paint buckets with gasketed lids. These buckets are not necessarily food-grade plastic but they are extremely sturdy, are rodent and bug-proof and have an air-tight seals. So they would be good for storing nonfood items such as medical or cleaning supplies. They also make great pots for planting tuber type vegetables such as onions, carrots, potatoes. If you use them to grow food, you will need to create drainage. So punch three drain holes in side walls, as close to the bottom as you can get. Then line the bottom with two or three inches of rock or gravel before filling with dirt.
Plastic Grocery Sacks A dear friend of mine taught me how useful these little freebies are. I went to see her one day and she was sitting at her table folding them up into little triangles. Remember the little paper 'footballs' we used to make when we were in school? Fold a sheet of paper the long way twice so that it is only a little over 2 inches wide. Then start at one end folding the corner diagonally to make a triangle and again and again ...like you are folding up a flag. When you get to the end, you tuck the residual into the seam of the previous fold and you end up with a neat little triangle. She was doing this with her plastic grocery sacks. I was curious and asked her why. She said that eventually she expected them to stop giving the bags away at the grocery stores and she wants to be prepared for that eventuality. She said she carries two or three in her purse all the time saying, "you never know when you might end up with a little more than you can carry in two hands." Then she laughed and said they work in a pinch for a rain rat too. She's definitely right that they will probably not always be free. And they are useful for a lot of things so good for her for stocking up.
This is a short list of examples. But I am trying to retrain myself to consider whether there is repurpose value when I am deciding which items to buy and also to consider whether there is a repurpose value again before I discard things. Like prepping, it's a mindset, and I think it will pay dividends in the long run.