How to start your sustainable storage collection

Aug 16, 2018 | by Hawnuh Lee


While some people might consider themselves a “cat” or “dog” person, I am quite literally a “jar-lady.” I love a scrappy rescue in need of some tough scrubs. Finding a new life for a glass jar is a simple, small ritual that contributes to a low impact lifestyle and makes me feel less self conscious about the number of pickles I eat. I want to take this post to help you feel better about an imperfect set of storage containers and encourage you to start your own collection of sustainable storage. I hope you’re as excited as I am to repurpose your glass jars!

Imperfect Containers

I’m working towards a beautiful organic rainbow of pantry essentials. Would it make more sense to putting savings toward a Roth IRA? Maybe, but I’ve got jars people! Jars! Purchasing a brand new set of wide mouth jars to replace every other storage option you have in your home is unfortunately a bit of an investment so in the meantime, as you save up or take time to source new-to-you finds, it’s important to make the most of the containers you have on hand. You can still have a beautiful collection of eclectic containers, matched through thoughtful labels and neatly organized. It’s something that becomes truly your own.

Glass is definitely my preferred storage material for food (it doesn’t hold smell, is easy to clean, and doesn’t leech any chemicals) but there are still a few plastic containers that continue to make their way in and out of the fridge as I repurpose them. If your grocery shopping is limited, and you can only find Vitality Trail Mix! in a plastic container, keep that empty container in rotation for secret snacks or freezer items. I try to get as much use out of unavoidable plastics before I recycle them. Any clean container with a (reasonably) tight fitting lid can store your bounty of bulk items for the short-term. Long-term we keep an eye peeled for hot finds at the Goodwill.

How to Start Your Storage Collection

One day you and I both will have an awesome pantry filled with cool jars of all shapes and sizes because we dream big friend. We can slowly rotate out old tupperware together, used within an inch of its life and replace it with our hard won finds. Be patient in growing this storage collection and be proud of your commitment to a low impact lifestyle.Making the most of what you have first and investing in storage items with longevity will connect you to the life of your materials.

Getting started (listening to your inner jar obsession):

Opt for glass containers over plastic

When possible. When purchasing grocery items (if bulk is not an option) and hold onto those jars! My favorite are coconut oil jars – easy to clean, labeless lid, and no lingering smell. Of course, use up what you have on hand before throwing anything away. I’ve got my share of repurposed deli containers pulling their weight.

Thrift stores

Oh man thrift stores have the best jars that are often in great shape. Look for cracks or chips that might grow and check for mysterious food stains.


Your friends, tell your neighbors, mention to your local restaurant hang that you’re taking unwanted jars. If your suggestions of repurposing fall flat there’s a good chance these folks will set jars aside for you instead.

Yard or estate sales

These might not always be put out but chances are there’s a few floating around worth asking about.

Remove labels

Properly for long-term use. My tried and true method involve soaking the jar / label in warm water for a night or two, rolling the label off, and using a compostable scrubber for any remaining pieces. A capful of white vinegar in the soaking bowl will help with tougher label jobs.

Remove the smell from your lids

Unfortunately not everyone loves an aromatic pickle jar and washing / soaking don’t always seem to do the trick. The best approach to pulling that smell out in my experience is leaving your stank jar lids smell-side up outside in the sun for a day or two and following up with a scrubby wash.


Place your jars and lids in boiling water with a bit of vinegar if you’re getting them from anywhere questionable.


Highlight the ingredients and create consistency between irregular containers. Make em pretty if that encourages you to actually use them!

Showcase your finds!

Get organized. Your jars will shine if you believe in them. Organize that pantry. And if you’re looking for suggestions on what to stock it with, here’s your list.

Unfortunately some plastics in your life are unavoidable. If you don’t have the income to invest, time to dedicate, or accessible resources to find sustainable storage options, you make do. But building a quality storage set over time will help you keep your food fresher longer and invest in sustainable materials. How else do you plan to store your homemade tahini? A low impact practice is well worth the time and effort.

Do you keep your pickle jars? If not can I have ‘em?

Let me know what containers you’re using! #closedloopcooking

Stay hungry,
Hawnuh Lee
Closed Loop Cooking

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18 thoughts on “How to start your sustainable storage collection”

  1. I’ve slowly been switching over to glass as much as possible, but it’s hard to avoid the occasional plastic container. =\ I’ve been planning to reorganize my pantry, and your tips will definitely come in handy. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I definitely prefer glass to plastic and we have slowly begun to replace all of our old plastic items in favor of reusable options. Do you have any advice for caring for inevitable rust buildup on lids or do you just tend to swap those out as they build up?

    • That’s a good question Jenni – I’ve actually found that a paste of baking soda and water with a good scrubber removes quite a bit of rust and is not as harsh as some other chemical alternatives. I’ve only done this a few times so let me know if you have success!

  3. I love seeing people’s pantries — organized, mis-matched and everything in between. If you’re in the process of getting organized a before and after would be awesome (at least to me). I also love glass. It looks great, but I also and am a huge fan of being able to see what you have and find glass helps me avoid re-buying things I already have and pushes me to use what I already have on hand.

    • I think that’s a great idea Maritha! I’m def going to document my process 🙂 Yes! Being able to see everything you have at once makes a huge difference!

  4. I love a good jar as well! Nothing is as satisfying as that sticky goo leftover from the label coming off in hot water 🙂 I definitely need to make labels and show-case them more!

  5. I haven’t ever tried the jars and lids in the sun trick, so I’ll have to try that next time! Sometimes I rub a cut lemon on the inside of a jar lid, which is especially good for removing tomato stains. And if it’s smelly, I put some wadded up newspaper in the jar for a day. It soaks up the stank!

    • Oh nice! I will definitely have to try those out on some of these more heavy duty smells! Awesome advice, thanks Catherine!


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