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Is It OK to Reuse Food and Takeout Containers?

A large plastic deli container reused as a lunchbox.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

It feels like such a waste to toss the plastic containers deli food, soups, and other foodstuffs come in. Sure, once you clean them you can throw them in the recycle bin, but can you reuse them?

A lot of misinformation is out there regarding the safety of reusing “disposable” plastic containers. Although many foods are packaged in plastic that’s intended, as far as the food company is concerned, for single use and then disposal, that’s simply not the case. Many plastics are safe for repeated reuse. Let’s look at what you need to be aware of.

Microwaving: Stick to Stable Heat-Safe Plastics

Some anti-plastic campaigns say you can’t microwave these containers. If the plastic container contains polypropylene, it’s safe for microwave use. To know what’s in the makeup of your plastic container, you need only to look at the recycle code and then check this sheet. #5 is polypropylene. Numbers 1, 2, and 4 are also safe for reuse.

Avoid BPA by Recycling #7 Containers

Are you worried about BPA? The Mayo Clinic and other health organizations warn against using BPA due to possible adverse health effects. BPA is in a resin used in many foodstuffs, not just plastic containers. It’s in some canned goods. BPA is being phased out, but in the meantime, recycle #7 containers just to be safe (unless they specify somewhere on them that they are BPA-free).

Recycle When Containers Show Signs of Wear

As for the timeframe of reuse, you should reuse food containers recycled from grocery store purchases for about six months only. If you’re microwaving them, they’ll start to warp over time (simply because they’re much thinner than containers purchased specifically for reuse) and be ready for the trash. If you eat a lot of deli meat, you’ll have a constant collection coming in, so tossing older ones won’t be a big deal.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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