One of the ways our family saves money is by finding new uses for old grocery containers. We recycle ice cream and coffee tubs into paint buckets, reuse bread bags for food storage, and hang onto old cottage cheese containers for sending home leftovers. Recycling food storage containers is a great way to reduce waste and free up cash for other necessities.
When it comes to upcycling old food and grocery packaging materials, it's important to understand that not all types of packaging are safe to reuse and recycle for food storage. Here are some basic guidelines that will help clarify what containers are safe to reuse for food and what should be avoided.
Don't use nonfood containers for storing food. Plastic containers used for laundry soap, kitty litter, plant fertilizer, and other cleansers can be upcycled into all sorts of great storage containers for the garage and garden. What they should not be used for is food storage since they could contain trace amounts of soaps and chemicals.
My rule of thumb for upcycling these types of containers is that plastic containers that once held bleach & other cleansers belong in the recycling bin. Totes that held soap, plant food, or kitty litter are OK to rinse out and use in the garage for organizing home & garden tools and supplies.
Don't reuse milk jugs for food storage. #1 PETE containers such as milk jugs are porous and will absorb bacteria. While milk jugs are great for crafting and gardening, they should never be used for storing homemade beverages or drinkable water.
Glass is OK. Glass can be sterilized and safely reused for all types of foods. The USDA Extension Services also note that straight sided glass containers can be used as freezer containers, unlike many plastics.
Don't reuse expanded foams for food storage. Porous packaging such as foam meat trays and styrofoam have air pockets that can trap food particles and bacteria. While recycled meat trays and foam food containers are fine to use as drip collectors beneath cars, they should not be used for food storage or crafting.
Reusing bread bags and flexible film bags. Flexible film bags are made of a type of plastic that is safe for storing food providing that the printed side is on the outside. Bread sacks can be reused for storing homemade breads and cookies; produce bags are OK to use for storing your garden produce. I'll reuse clean flexible film bags at least half a dozen times or so before they are put in the recycling bin at my neighborhood grocery store.
While these bags are also great for storing leftovers and raw meat products, worth noting is that once they've been used for storing leftovers or meats, the bags are no longer safe for reuse.
Don't reuse pop bottles or water bottles. While clean beverage containers are fine for crafting or storing used motor oil, containers identified by the number 3, 6 or 7 on the bottom are made of potentially harmful chemicals and not recommended for food storage.
Clean cottage cheese and yogurt containers are fine for storing food and leftovers providing that the food being stored is similar in acidity and sugar, fat, or alcohol content.
Paper and cardboard containers. When it comes to reusing paper products such as paper bags, wax paper, and pizza boxes, common sense should help you decide what's safe to reuse and what's not. Paper that has not come into contact with food is fine to use for crafting or other non-food uses around the house. Wax liners from cereal boxes can be safely reused (once) for holding sandwiches or cookies for a sack lunch.
http://web.aces.uiuc.edu/vista/pdf_pubs/FOODPACK.PDF "Reusing Food Packaging...Is it Safe?" by Susan Brewer