Blowing The Lid On What To Do With Old Tupperware
We’d hazard a guess that the least organized drawer or cabinet in your kitchen is crammed with stacked plastic containers and, since you’re environmentally conscious, an old glass jar or two (ok maybe ten).
If you’re like most, pictures of your Tupperware storage probably aren’t going to hit Pinterest any time soon.
In fact, the clutter of it all can leave you wondering what your options are if you want to scale back. That gets especially important if you think your plastic food storage containers might be past their prime.
Wait, does old Tupperware go bad?
It sure does, which means mucking through it may not just be a matter of decluttering, but decontaminating your eating rituals.
That’s where we come in, with an eco-friendly guide on what to do with old tupperware when you no longer need it.
Whether you’re wanting to part with a Tupperware®-brand item or a piece of plastic that falls under the generic Tupperware umbrella, we’ve got you covered like leftovers in the microwave.
If you need some motivation to make sure those bits and colorful plastic don’t end up in the landfill, jump down to the bottom.
1. Is Old Tupperware Safe To Use For Food?
Before we get into your options for repurposing, disposing of and recycling old Tupperware containers, let’s talk about when it should leave your home — and when it shouldn’t necessarily go into someone else’s.
This is important if you’re wondering what to do with old plastic Tupperware because passing it along to a friend or the thrift shop means it could introduce things like bisphenol A (BPA) into someone else’s food.
That would be a bit like donating old underwear to someone…
Does old Tupperware have BPA?
If you’re wondering whether old Tupperware is safe for food storage, BPA is the first and foremost concern. This is because BPA has been linked to diabetes, hormone disruption, infertility, heart problems, and more.
The Tupperware® brand didn’t nix BPA until 2010 so you’ll likely want to look into how to recycle Tupperware options at that point.
Regardless of maker, a good rule of thumb is to assume all older Tupperware is NOT BPA safe, especially if you don’t remember how long you’ve had it.
That means you especially shouldn’t consider your old Tupperware microwave safe, either—although it’s arguable that NO Tupperware is truly microwave safe because heating plastic of any kind can cause BPA and inescapable phthalate leaching into your food.
Let’s look at a few other signs for when you should replace yours.
Stains & Smells
These don’t necessarily mean your Tupperware containers are unsafe to use. A lot of plastic food containers get made from polypropylene, which is a porous type of plastic that can absorb colors and odors.
Staining is something you can live with, but if the odor is bugging you, try leaving the plastic container somewhere with its lid off for a few days.
If you’ve misplaced or broken your plastic caps, see if you can procure replacement lids before disposing of the whole thing.
Cracks & Chips
If your old plastic containers have met hard times while being toted around—weathering places like kids’ backpacks or the floor of your car—they might be structurally compromised.
Check your old plastic Tupperware. If the issue lies on the exterior (say the lid is scratched), you’re probably fine. But if you have a major chip, crack, scratch, or weird texture in the interior, it can trap bacteria or simply leak.
What’s more, those abrasions can make it more likely for harmful chemicals to transfer or be indirectly ingested.
Read below for what to do with old Tupperware lids and containers that are structurally compromised but skip anything that would pass the problem to someone else.
Try to think back to when you got your Tupperware. If it’s been a decade or less, you’re good. Tupperware (especially actual Tupperware®) can last your lifetime and then some—not that they necessarily should.
With vintage Tupperware products, dangerous elements (read: potentially toxic chemicals) come into play. If your Tupperware is old enough, it might even leach harmful chemicals and heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and arsenic into stored food.
Suddenly those leftovers don’t sound very appetizing…
Ziploc®-brand containers have a 5-10 year lifespan, and other plastic containers fall in a similar range.
After a decade, it’s probably time to use them for a purpose other than to store food—or figure out if they can go into your recycling bin. Which brings us to the topic of recycling old Tupperware.
2. How To Recycle Tupperware
If it’s time to part with some of your Tupperware, we’d bet your first consideration was to recycle plastic storage containers, considering that IS what Tupperware is made of.
That, of course, begs the question: is tupperware recyclable?
In a lot of cases, yes, and your local services might be up to the task.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you can just throw your Tupperware container in your blue bin once you’re done with it. Just because it’s made of plastic doesn’t mean recycling programs in your area are necessarily equipped to properly process it.
And adding items to your recycling because you hope they’ll be recyclable (i.e. wishcycling) can end up being detrimental to your local facilities, slowing down recycling progress across the country and eating into precious resources.
Long story short, you probably can recycle your old Tupperware, but you have to choose the right path for that specific item. Let’s look at your two main options for proper recycling.
Recycling Tupperware containers locally
As a general rule of thumb, thicker plastic is easier to recycle—and more likely to be taken by your local recycling center. It’s why you generally can’t toss plastic bags in your recycling bin.
To find out if your Tupperware material is recyclable, you need to know what type of plastic Tupperware is made from.
Start by flipping it over. Ideally, you’ll see a Mobius loop on the bottom, or the universal recycling symbol, along with a number.
Chances are, you’ll see a #4 (low-density polyethylene) or #5 (polypropylene), though there are always exceptions.
Next look up which plastics your local recycling facility can handle. Metro areas are more likely to take a broader range of plastics, while rural parts of the country might limit what they recycle because the volume isn’t high enough to make economic sense.
Generally, these types of plastic are:
- #1 (PET/PETE) is recyclable
- #2 (HDPE) is recyclable
- #3 (PVC) can technically be recycled, but usually isn’t
- #4 (LDPE) can be recycled but usually requires drop-off at a specific location (e.g., grocery store collection bins)
- #5 (PP) can be recycled, but usually not in your curbside bin and not in rural areas
- #6 (PS) can’t be recycled
- #7 (all other plastics) depends on the type
If you see a #1 (polyethylene terephthalate) or #2 (high-density polyethylene), you’re almost definitely safe to add it to your curbside recycling.
Other than that, do your homework to look up local recycling guidelines. There may be a local council or specialist service in your area that takes plastic your local center can’t process.
Assuming you’ve found your solution for where to recycle plastic Tupperware, toss them in the bin with the lid attached since you can recycle Tupperware lids, too.
Using TerraCycle to recycle plastic Tupperware
If your local recyclers can’t handle your old food containers, you can recycle Tupperware containers through TerraCycle,a company that specializes in recycling, even tough-to-recycle products.
By sending them plastic food storage you can’t recycle locally, you can help it get to recycling centers where it can be properly processed. It might cost you money, though, depending on who made the product.
Fortunately, some manufacturers fund recycling programs through TerraCycle. That means TerraCycle will accept the item at no cost to you. Right now, the company has programs to recycle the following brands for free:
If your containers don’t fall under either of those programs, you can still recycle them with TerraCycle. It might just cost you some money.
The Plastic Packaging Zero Waste Box accepts all types of rigid and flexible plastic except foamed and biodegradable plastic and PLA, which is usually used for 3D printing.
Recycling non-plastic food storage
If you’re storing your food in aluminum or glass containers (infinitely recyclable raw materials), you can almost definitely send those to your thrift store (if they’re in good shape) or recycling facility (if they’re not) when you no longer need them.
3. Ways To Upcycle Old Tupperwaer
Let’s say your old Tupperware shouldn’t be storing food anymore but you don’t want to or can’t recycle it. You could give it a new life.
If you’re wondering what can you use old Tupperware for, think about turning them into an organizer box for non-food items.
Large Tupperware products could be the solution to your plastic container drawer organization woes. Use your bigger containers to store lids and small containers, keeping that drawer in line.
Similarly, you can use old Tupperware as containers to store a wide variety of items throughout your house. If the lids still work, they could be an ideal solution for messy kids’ craft supplies or anything else you want to keep in some sort of order.
Even if the lids are kaput, you can still use the containers themselves to store small items in drawers or on shelves to keep your bits and bobs a little tidier.
Here are more ideas for old Tupperware uses:
- Pretty Planters: A little paint on the exterior and some drainage holes—which are easy to drill into plastic—can turn old containers into ingenious plant pots.
- Zero Waste Wrapping: Give the Tupperware a coat of paint inside and out, add a little filling (cut-up newspaper works), and nestle a small gift inside. Tie a ribbon around it and you’ve got the gift wrapped in a robust way that can travel problem-free.
- Compost Bucket: An old Tupperware container can give you a smaller, less intrusive way to keep food scraps corralled on the counter. Then, dump it into your indoor compost bin when you’re done prepping your meal.
- Showerhead Cleaning Container: Getting your showerhead to look like new doesn’t have to require a lot of elbow grease. Simply unscrew your showerhead from the wall, pop it in the Tupperware with white vinegar, and let it sit overnight to remove hard water deposits and revive your water pressure.
4. Donate Tupperware Containers In Good Shape
Wondering what to do with old tupperware containers that are still new(ish) and functional?
Maybe you were gifted a set of new storage containers but had planned to keep using your old Tupperware for a while longer. It might have a useful life with someone else.
You may want to ask friends and family if they need what you’re giving away.
If you don’t come up with any takers there and the containers are still safe to store food, your local thrift store might take them. Call and ask in advance, though, because some donation centers won’t accept items that risk food contamination.
This probably goes without saying, but make sure your old Tupperware containers get a thorough clean before you bring them to the thrift store or other donation location.
If they have that odor we talked about earlier, give them a few days with the lid off to air out before you drop them off. No one wants to buy an item that smells like a stranger’s dinner, even if it does only cost a buck or two.
5. What To Do With Vintage Tupperware
Wait, can you sell old Tupperware?
Generally speaking, no, but there are niche markets for rare, vintage items.
But wait, doesn’t vintage Tupperware have BPA? Is 70s, 80s, or 90s Tupperware safe to use?”
It depends on the purpose. Considering the branded Tupperware® didn’t stop using BPA until 2010, vintage options probably aren’t food-safe anymore, but some people like it as a decor piece to add to their kitchen’s *aesthetic*.
With that in mind, you might find a specialized buyer for your vintage Tupperware on eBay, Etsy, or similar sites.
6. Alternatives To Old Tupperware
As for ways to upcycle Tupperware products that cannot be recycled or sold, you might be out of options at that point. In this case, the landfill may be your last resort.
Not ideal we know but the good news? It’s a learning experience and one that will hopefully lead you to find new and more responsible ways to keep your food fresh.
Take plastic-free food storage containers for example. Opting for fully recyclable solutions and sustainable materials like glass and metal can eliminate a lot of the complications that come with plastic.
While the glass vs plastic debate is somewhat nuanced, glass is a straightforward, environmentally friendly way to part with this food storage option when you’re done using it (read: you can recycle it or reuse it safely indefinitely).
It also means the product wasn’t made from oil, helping you further limit your environmental impact.
Plus, storing your food might not require the full-blown container you’d expect. Knowing how to use beeswax wraps or just opting for a damp paper towel could be enough to keep produce fresh, as well as other foods
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Why Find Better Things To Do With Old Plastic Containers
If Tupperware poses so many potential problems to human health, why should we recycle or sell it?
Because the alternative is that it joins the other 300 million tons of plastic product waste generated every.single.year. For perspective, that’s about what the entire human race weighs.
If we continue, experts predict we will have 12 billion metric tons of plastic materials in landfills by 2050.
There, they will take anywhere from 20-500 years to break down, and considering Tupperware is often made of thick plastic, it likely sits on the higher end of that spectrum.
Of course, that’s assuming it actually makes it to the landfill and not into the ocean, where it will contribute to the annual death of one million marine animals and break down into some of the 70,000 pieces of microplastics the average person consumes in a year.
If you think last week’s mold-covered leftovers you forgot about sound gross, just imagine that.
While plastic products often have a less-than-perfect, responsible end-of-life solution, we can mitigate its damage by recycling and repurposing as much as possible.
Final Thoughts On What To Do With Old Used Tupperware
Because it’s usually plastic, finding safe ways to recycle old Tupperware can get complicated. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.
If you’ve made it this far in this article, you probably care about the impact of your stuff and how to dispose of it in eco-friendly ways, whether it be old clothes, old pillows, or that pile of yellowing plastic in your kitchen cabinet.
Armed with this resource, you can do just that for all miscellaneous lids and cracked plastic containers, even if your best and safest option is to simply recycle.
Most importantly, once that plastic leaves your house, ensure it doesn’t come back. A zero waste kitchen is a healthy kitchen—not to mention you’ll be spared from needing this resource again in the future.
We’d bet that just about everyone you know has some old Tupperware products they never so consider sharing this resource with them so they too can responsibly deal with their old plastic containers and lids.