Upcycling Plastic Food Containers into Pretty Storage

2 small storage tubs upcycled from plastic food containers decorated with paper

Do you ever get plastic food containers with your weekly shop and want to find a way to re use them?

As a family we try to make environmentally sound choices with our food shop but some of the items we like to buy occasionally come in single use plastic containers. My husband likes olives and I can only buy them in little plastic tubs or glass jars. A glass jar is of course very reusable but we have a lot of them anyway from jams, honey, pasta/curry/chilli sauce etc and I do wonder about the environmental impact of a heavy glass jar of product being transported verses a much lighter plastic tub. I know these things are not always obvious and making the best choices is not always easy as a consumer. I think the best way of buying olives would be one of those shops where you take your own containers and fill them with products from large vats. Unfortunately it is quite a drive to the nearest of of those from here so I’d be using more fuel to make a special trip. None of the options are ideal.

Normally these single use plastic tubs go into our recycling bin and fortnightly the council rubbish collection takes them away and (hopefully) they are recycled. But you know what is better than recycle? Reuse!


Today I’m joining some of my creative friends to bring you the Sustainable Pinterest Challenge. This month the theme is REDUCE SINGLE USE so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to find a way to reuse these plastic food containers. I had a quick look through my Pinterest boards and found a few ideas that inspired me. I like these paper mache ideas to make bowls, this one from circles of paper and this one using pages from an old book. You’ll find all the other contributors creative ideas to help reduce single use at the end of this tutorial so do stay tuned!

I ended up making 3 different tubs, each one trying a slightly different technique or paper. I used a basic paper mache technique but rather than using a china bowl or balloon as a mould we are leaving the plastic tub in situ. This actually makes the paper mache much easier and WAY quicker. You don’t need to build up layers and layers to get a nice study little tub.

Materials needed to upcycle your single use plastic food tubs

  • An old single use plastic food tub or container

  • Mod Podge

  • A brush

  • Paper - old book pages, old magazines or small pieces of scrapbook paper

  • scissors

Start by washing your tub really well in hot soapy water, you want to remove any food residue. Whether you also remove any labels depends on which way you are going to decorate your tub. If it’s going to be completely covered then just tear off the label as best you can but don’t worry about removing every last scrap.

My containers had a sort of lip at the top which I didn’t want. It was simple enough to just cut it off with regular scissors.

Now your old single use plastic food container is ready to be transformed!

How to upcycle a single use plastic food tub with old book pages

Let’s start with this tub decorated with a page from an old book.

Rip a couple of pages from an old book into small pieces. I used just under 2 pages to cover my 8cm (3”) wide pot. Using the brush, apply the Mod Podge over a section of the tub and start sticking on the scraps of book page. Overlap the pieces and cover with with more Mod Podge. As I said, you are basically doing paper mache but over the top of the plastic tub.

I found it easiest to cover the outside of the tub and let it dry then cover the inside. Go right over the top edge to give a smooth finish. tear the paper to go round the corners easily.

Hold it up to the light to see if you’ve missed any sections. You really only need to cover the tub completely with a single layer. See - much quicker than traditional paper mache. Cover the whole thing with a layer of Mod Podge to seal and leave it to dry.

book covered plastic tub

The tub looked pretty nice just covered in book pages, you could just leave it like that.

I had a whole load of flowers cut from an old gardening magazine in a drawer, left over from these projects:

I thought they would work well to add a little something extra to the container. Easy peasy, just glue them in place with the Mod Podge.

Pretty eh?

Upcycling a single use plastic food tub using old magazines

This tub was upcycled in the exact same way as the book page tub but with ripped up pages from an old magazine. This tub was slightly bigger than the book page one but that’s the only difference.

I added cut out flowers to this one too as you can see.

Upcycling a single use plastic food tub using tiny scraps of scrapbook papers

For this last tub upcycle I gathered a load of tiny scraps of pretty scrapbook and card making papers. I keep even pretty small bits of paper - it’s an affliction, I can’t help it! - so I had plenty to choose from. I used a 1” circle punch to punch a lovely pile of paper circles and then glued them to the plastic food tub. For this idea you really do need the plastic tub to be completely clean and with all the labels and stickiness removed.

Glue the circles all over the outside of the tub first and let that dry. Some of the papers I used are double sided but some only single sided.

Cover the plain side of the circles by glueing another circle to the inside. Line up the circles neatly for the best effect.

How to use your upcycled tubs as pretty storage

I’ve filled these tubs with stationery bits and pieces and have them on my desk at the moment.

This photo above is rather neatly cropped to make me look a little tidier than I really am. Just to keep things real here’s the more realistic view, and honestly, for me this really is as tidy as it gets.


Now let’s take a look at the other ideas from my creative blog friends which will help to reduce single use items and help us all become a little more sustainable in our lives.

A collage of craft ideas to help to reduce single use items

Julie | Sum of their Stories | Upcycling Plastic Containers into Pretty Storage (that’s this tutorial!)

Gail | Purple Hues and Me| Reusable Cleaning Wipes

T’onna | Sew Crafty Crochet | Crochet Shopping Bag

Niki | Life as a LEO Wife | Coastal Centrepiece

Donna | Modern on Monticello | DIY Glass Jar Gnomes

Julie | Treasures Made From Yarn | Market Bag

Lydia | Life Beyond the Kitchen | Makeup Remover Pads

Mel | Decor Craft Design | DIY Tiered Tray Upcycled Cookie Tins

Single use items are almost impossible to avoid in our everyday lives, I’m sure some people manage it but despite being careful with my purchasing I still get some now and again. It feels like we need a 2 pronged approach; creating something that makes it easier to avoid single use items in the first place has got to be the best option, then finding ways to reuse items that would normally be thought of as single use and give them a new purpose as a second line of defence!

I’m a big believer that if we all just make small changes the needle will move. Of course governments and big corporations need to make efforts to enable real change but if every person on the planet threw one less thing a month into landfill that would be over 90 billion less things in landfill each year! Tell me that wouldn’t be a good thing!


You might want to check out these ideas too that reuse disposable or single use items.