Returning Food Packaging for Reuse

I love to shop at my local farmer’s market. I am very lucky to have a great local market with both summer and winter seasons, and a wide variety of vendors. I have been visiting it regularly for the past 6 years and in that time I have become a die-hard fan.

There are a lot of things to love about the farmer’s market. When I shop there I feel as if I know where my food is coming from. I can meet the people who produced it, ask them questions, and even get cooking tips. They are my neighbors, and they take their work seriously. The food is fresh and local, and most of it is produced using sustainable methods. Plus, my purchases come with a minimum of packaging. I bring my own re-usable cloth grocery and produce bags, and often leave with zero waste.

In spite of how much time I spend shopping at my farmer’s market, I still have things to learn. Recently, I was surprised to see someone handing empty egg cartons to a vendor. I asked what that was about, and she explained that they reuse the cartons. I’m not sure why this surprised me, I’m really not. The eggs I buy at the market come in a hodge podge of containers, with various brands and logos gracing the fronts. They are clearly second-hand, but for some reason it never occurred to me to wonder how they made their way from Company X to Farmer Jane.

I wasn’t done learning, either, as that very same day the fabulous woman who makes what has to be the world’s best salsa asked me to return my empty glass jars to her. In fact, she said that she would come to my house to pick them up, she wanted them so badly. Reusing glass jars is a money-saver, since washing and sterilizing an old jar is cheaper than buying a new one. For a small producer like my salsa maker, the cost savings makes a big difference to her bottom line.

Pretty much all of us are familiar with the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra. What we don’t always remember, though, is that those actions are listed in order of priority. The most sustainable choice is always to reduce our consumption. If that fails, reusing something that we already have, or that someone else already has, is an excellent second choice. And only then, if an item is not reusable, recycling is a good way to reduce our waste and our consumption of raw materials. I’ll admit it – I was just recycling my cardboard egg cartons and my glass jars without even thinking of asking if someone else could use them.

I can’t believe that it took me 6 years of visiting my local market to realize that I could return packaging for reuse. I plan to ask other vendors if they will also accept clean packing back. And if enough of us request it, I’ll bet that those vendors who don’t currently reuse packaging would at least consider it. It sounds to me like everyone wins.

What about you? What do you do with empty packaging? Do you reuse it yourself, re-purpose it, or recycle? And I promise, there will be no judgment from me no matter what you do.

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Amber is very excited to be a part of the Green Team here at 5 Minutes For Going Green! You can catch up with her other various adventures on her personal blog at

9 Responses to Returning Food Packaging for Reuse
  1. » I am an Artist
    October 21, 2009 | 12:32 pm

    […] very couple of weeks over at 5 Minutes for Going Green! You can read my first post today, Returning Food Packaging for Reuse. AKPC_IDS += “6379,”; Love this? Share […]

  2. Amy Whitley
    October 21, 2009 | 2:44 pm

    What we don’t always remember, though, is that those actions are listed in order of priority.

    This is so true! And I always forget it, because the ‘recycling’ part is easiest sometimes. I never thought of returning containers to the farmer’s market either. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Annie @ PhD in Parenting
    October 21, 2009 | 3:47 pm

    We return plastic containers and jars to our CSA.

  4. Nicole
    October 21, 2009 | 10:00 pm

    I return egg cartons to the farm where we buy our eggs (and chicken).

    I also save gift bags and the tissue paper that comes with them so I have things to put gifts in. This is a reduce and a reuse in one: I’m not buying more paper or bags for them and I’m reusing the old ones.

    Empty pop/adult beverage bottle go into the blue recycling bin; our weekly recycling group takes them and returns them and uses the money to fund the recycling operation.

    I don’t can, but I reuse mason jars (spaghetti sauce jars) for beans, lentils, rice, flour, etc. This stems from when my parents lived up north and kept getting mice – mom had to store everything in glass because the mice would chew through plastic (yes, even tupperware).

  5. Marj M.
    October 21, 2009 | 11:09 pm

    Repurpose is big at our house.
    Nicole, I reuse glass jars for the same reason your parents did. They all look so pretty when filled.
    I wash out plastic sandwich and larger bags, reuse aluminum foil, paper is used on both sides, cook from scratch and take my plastic grocery bags back for reuse.

  6. Lowbudget
    October 21, 2009 | 11:26 pm

    I actually use a large portion of glass jars, pancake syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, etc for making homemade cleaners as well as making hand and foot scrub for gifts. The salsa glass jars are great for this too.
    My family recycles plastic, foil, cardboard and paper. I use my son’s olds school papers to print coupons out on. We use envelopes from mail we receive to separate old coupons into catagories to be mailed in a big box overseas to military bases for folks to use there.
    Finally, soda pop tabs are collected and will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House. They are able to get money for them which will help to run the house. I think that covers it! SMILE :)

  7. Holly
    October 22, 2009 | 2:53 am

    Reduce, reuse, recycle. When I taught environmental education workshops to elementary school kids, the students could barely list the three Rs, let alone put them in order of importance. Thanks for reminding us to reduce and reuse before recycling!

  8. Stephanie - Green SAHM
    October 22, 2009 | 8:15 pm

    I love reusing the spaghetti sauce mason jars. They’re just a nice size. We also save egg cartons for my sister who has chickens and sometimes we get eggs back from her.

  9. […] easy being green, reduce reuse recycle, repurposing — Nicole @ 6:53 am Amber just made her first post on 5 Minutes for Going Green. She makes a good point: Pretty much all of us are familiar with the ‘reduce, reuse, […]