Ah, Tupperware. What once was just a brand identity has morphed into much more. In fact, the term “Tupperware” is so famous that we refer to any glass or plastic food storage container that allows us to store and freeze food as Tupperware, even if it's not from the OG brand.
Regardless of what you call your food storage containers, I bet you have several in your home, either because you’ve bought them or because you’ve "stolen" them from your parent’s home, full of delicious comfort food.
But what happens when your Tupperware is on its last leg? Whether you want to get rid of them because they are too old or because you want to live a plastic-free eco-life, throwing your unused containers in the trash doesn't guarantee the most environmentally friendly end for them.
Instead, it contributes severely to environmental pollution because plastic (as I already know) isn't biodegradable. But don't worry, today I'll show you what to do with your old plastic Tupperware without harming Mother Earth! Bet you'll be surprised by some of the alternate uses you can give to them.
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When should you replace your plastic Tupperware containers?
Although it's true that Tupperware is of good quality, it's not perfect. In fact, the brand brags about the top quality of its products, but even if we treat them with extreme care, not everything lasts forever in perfect condition. There are several signs that show us when it is time to replace them, such as:
It has stains and funky smells: During the lifespan of a Tupperware, a vast amount of food is stored in it, be it vegetables, fruits, meat, etc. Let’s not forget that these containers are made of polypropylene, which is a porous material. This means that not only can some residues be transferred from the Tupperware to the food, but also vice versa. Certain foods stain the plastic and remain impregnated in it, leaving stains that can be very difficult to remove.
Honestly, who doesn't have a Tupper that one day stopped being white? When they first show up, these stains may not affect the quality of the container… But they aren’t very pleasant either. Over time, if the stains aren’t washed out or become impossible to remove, they can be accompanied by unbearable strange odors. There is nothing worse than cooking a meal, taking out your container, and as soon as you remove the lid, a funky smell permeates your nostrils. Yuck!
It’s warped: Plastic containers withstand a lot of day-to-day use, and perhaps, because they are made of plastic, we don’t treat them with the care they deserve. Although some plastic storage containers are microwave safe and can withstand some heat, they aren’t stove safe. You shouldn’t cook food on them nor use them carelessly.
By "using carelessly", I mean by exposing them to flames, extremely hot oil, or boiling water. But if you’ve already accidentally put your fav Tupper too close to the stove and it melted, it’s time to let it go. That warped plastic may lead to some health concerns in the long run.
Lids are missing, broken, or deformed: The lid plays a critical role in the functionality of Tupperware, as it is what seals the container and keeps our food fresh (well, it is basically the main reason why people buy them in the first place) but if you notice that the container no longer closes properly because the lid is chipped, cracked or deformed and you don't have any replacement lids, get ready to say sayonara. Of course, if all of a sudden none of your Tupperware has a lid anymore, its purpose of storing food is no longer existent.
It’s more than 11 years old: If the Tupperware you have at home is excessively old, you should replace it not only because it may have deep scratches from constant use where bacteria can get trapped, but also because it's probably made of bisphenol-A (BPA), a potentially harmful chemical.
Since 2010 the Tupperware brand claims that all traces of the chemical have been removed from its products, but if you still have that '90s Tupperware you took home from your parents’ house, it may not be safe for your health. BPA has been linked to ailments such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and even obesity, so you better be careful!
Does Tupperware go bad?
Plastic Tupperware, technically speaking, can have a lifespan of 10+ years, depending on how often we use it and HOW we use it. However, there is no need to extend their life dramatically. As I mentioned above, they can get stained by acidic foods such as garlic or tomatoes and collect unpleasant scents, both of which can reduce the life expectancy of the container when not removed as soon as possible.
The same thing will happen if you expose them to flames if they break, if they get scratched or if the lids no longer serve their purpose. Basically, Tupperware itself does not go bad over time, but if we do not take care of it, it will not help us store nor enjoy our food. Instead, it will ruin it or threaten our health.
Can you recycle plastic storage containers?
When the time comes that your plastic storage container needs to retire, one of the alternatives you have available instead of tossing it in the trash is to recycle it. But can you recycle Tupperware? Yes, good news: you CAN recycle (some) old Tupperware! However, check the bottom of the container. There you will see some numbers and symbols (I'll talk more about this in the next section), and if the recycling symbol, the triangle made of three chasing arrows, has either a 1, 2 or 4 on it, then you are good to go.
When taking your Tupper to your local recycling center, make sure they are empty, clean, dry, and preferably have their lid on.
In case you have unbranded plastic storage containers, whether they are recyclable or not also depends entirely on the number on the container's bottom. If it has either a 1, 2, or 4 on it, you're good to go, same as with branded Tupperware. But if the container has the numbers 5 or 7, the bad news: number 5 isn’t widely accepted in all recycling centers, and number 7 isn’t recyclable. Also, most branded Tupperware is made with those numbers so before you collect all your containers to make them go to the next life, be sure to check with your local recycling facility to see if they accept it.
What do the numbers at the bottom of Tupperware mean?
Since the 80s, the plastics industry has used a system of 7 numbers to identify the materials used in the manufacture of their products in order to indicate whether they can be recycled or not.
This system is known as "Resin Identification Codes" and is the number that are engraved at the bottom of every Tupperware! They are surrounded by a triangle of arrows (the classic recycling symbol), and each number corresponds to a specific material:
#1 PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate): used in juice, soda, detergent, water, and cooking oil bottles (and in some Tupperware!).
#2 HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene): used in opaque plastic containers for milk, detergent, shampoo, and some grocery bags (also in some Tupperware!).
#3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): found in clear plastic wrap, pipes, some flexible plastic bottles, clear medical cubing, and even seat covers.
#4 LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene): used in grocery bags, most wrapping films, and sandwich bags (you guessed it, in some Tupperware too!).
#5 PP (Polypropylene): used in most syrup and yogurt containers and plastic caps of soda bottles (and in Tupperware, too!).
#6 PS (Polystyrene): used in styrofoam insulation, disposable cutlery and cups, egg cartons, and peanut packaging.
#7 Other plastics (made from a combination of the above numbers, lesser-known plastics): used in egg cartons, trays, cups, etc.
The materials used in Tupperware undergo a rigorous classification procedure prior to production. Still, if the container you have at home has no number at the bottom, it's because the mold used to manufacture the product was made before this coding came into effect (so it's vintage! Keep scrolling to see what you can do with vintage Tupperware).
What type of plastic cannot be recycled?
Long story short, the lower the number, the more likely the type of plastic is easily recyclable. Many types of plastic can be recycled. However, many others can't. Why? Because they're not easy to recycle.
There are two types of plastics: thermosets and thermoplastics. Thermoplastics can be re-melted and remolded into new products, and therefore many can be recycled. However, thermoset plastics contain polymers that form irreversible chemical bonds, which means that no matter how hard people try to recycle them mechanically or chemically, it simply won't work.
I encourage you to always check with your local recycling point to see if the type of plastic you have can be recycled or not, but usually, plastics number 1, 2, and 4 (with the exception of grocery bags because they can get stuck in the sorting machines) can be recycled. As mentioned above, Tupperware can be made from #1, #2, and #4 plastics, so most recycling points will welcome them with open arms.
On the other hand, plastics number 3, 6, and 7 are not recyclable, and although there are exceptions, most recycling centers will not accept them. What about number 5? Well, those plastics are not widely accepted in recycling programs either, but it's gradually becoming more accepted. The key here is to ask your local recycling center so that you avoid unpleasant surprises when you decide what to do with your old plastic containers.
Are Old Tupperware Containers BPA Free?
Tupperware plastic containers manufactured prior to 2010 most likely contain BPA, a chemical used to make polycarbonate. But what does BPA have to do with the fact that vintage Tupperware can be dangerous? Well, as I mentioned a few paragraphs above, BPA has been linked to obesity in children and adults as well as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. Therefore, if you're still using an old Tupperware from the 80s, you may want to replace it if BPA concerns you.
However, nowadays, the brand's products no longer include BPA (what a relief!), but if you want to verify whether your container is BPA-free or not, an easy way to tell is to turn it over and look at the bottom. If you see the number "7", then it likely contains BPA. BPA-free products will have a 1, 2, or 5 at the bottom.
Is Vintage Tupperware Dangerous?
If BPA wasn't enough, this isn't the only toxic chemical that can be found in vintage Tupperware. Tamara Rubin from the Lead Safe Mama blog independently conducted research to test whether vintage Tupperware contained Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, or Mercury, and she didn't just find 1 or 2 chemicals; she found them all. BPA, as well as arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury, are dangerous substances for humans, so if you’ve been using vintage Tupperware, the best thing you can do is not use them anymore. Plastic not only harms the environment but has also directly harmed humans for years.
Where can I sell old Tupperware?
Yes, that old Tupperware that has been sitting in your kitchen for decades may be worth a bit more than its original purchase price! While it's unlikely that anyone will become a millionaire selling old Tupperware containers, you could make a few hundred bucks depending on the condition and antiquity of the ones you have at home.
Online sales websites like eBay and Etsy offer all kinds of vintage Tupperware. The products available range from cups, tumblers, and bowls to brightly colored containers and even toys (yup, Tupperware made toys back in the day). If you have some in good condition that belonged to your gramps, feel free to list them on any of those websites, or you can also do it on Facebook groups dedicated exclusively to vintage Tupperware collection, on any other "vintage addicts" group, or on Marketplace. The Internet is like a big national and international marketplace, so you'll definitely find someone who may be interested in your Tupper.
Ways to upcycle old Tupperware that can’t be recycled or sold
Instead of recycling or selling your old plastic Tupperware because it’s too damaged or it can’t be recycled, you can put them back to work! Repurposing or upcycling Tupperware can seem like a daunting task, especially if you think your arts and crafts skills are far from being at least decent. But I’m here to give you good news: it doesn't take excessive creativity to give those containers a second chance! Here are some ideas to repurpose your old plastic Tupperware:
Plant pots or herb planters: Both the Tupperware lid and the container itself can be used as ingenious plant pots for small indoor plants or as herb planters, taking advantage of its small size and durability. In regards to the lid, if you make some holes in it, it will serve as a saucer to collect the excess water when watering the plants. So get some cilantro seeds, oregano seeds, or a small cactus, and start growing!
Organizer box for office supplies, makeup, or arts and crafts materials: Whether you need to store paper clips and post-its, lipsticks and beauty blenders, or charcoal sticks and kneaded erasers, you don't need to buy those multi-level organizers that dominate Amazon. All you need is a little creativity and the motivation to create one using your old plastic Tupperware!
Compost bucket: If you have a composter at home, you can use a large Tupperware as a compost bucket to collect all the fruit and vegetable scraps from your zero waste kitchen. This way, you can conveniently transport them to your composter without having to spend money on expensive and fancy compost buckets.
Jewelry boxes: The smaller Tupperware will fit you like a glove for storing loose jewelry in a drawer. Earrings, bracelets, rings, and virtually any type of small jewelry will fit into your original upcycled jeweler!
First aid kit: Medium to large Tupperware is perfect for first aid kits, especially if you want to make a mini travel first aid kit. Just throw in an oral thermometer, some antiseptic, gloves, band-aids, cotton balls, gauze, and aspirins, and you're good to go. Everyone needs a first aid kit in their lives, and if you can have one (or several) at home, in the car, and at the office, the better.
Bonus DIY Project – Tissue dispenser: Just open a wide star-shaped slot in the center of the Tupperware lid, and boom, new tissue dispenser! You can easily pull out tissues, wet wipes, or napkins that you want to have in hand through the slot, and if the container isn't too colorful, you can paint it in any color you like.
What should I replace my plastic Tupperware with that is more sustainable?
No one can deny that plastic has covered many needs in our daily lives, even going as far as depending on it while ignoring many other materials such as glass, stainless steel, and bamboo. Undoubtedly, these are much better eco-friendly alternatives to plastic. However, it's essential to keep in mind what type of material we need depending on the food we want to store and where. Definitely, the most popular choice for food storage is glass.
If you already have glass containers at home, go for it! They're an excellent alternative to Tupperware. With glass, you don't have to worry about the leaching of toxic chemicals from a plastic product such as BPA or lingering unpleasant odors, as it is a non-porous material. If it does get stained, a good wash with soapy water will keep it as clean as a hound's tooth. Plus, it resists high temperatures!
However, the glass falls short in the sustainability department. Although it is 100% recyclable, currently, only 40% is recycled. Because the sand that is used to make glass is taken from riverbeds and seabeds (faster than the Earth can replenish it), it creates disruptions in the ecosystem. It leaves nearby communities open to flooding and erosion.
So what are truly the most sustainable materials?
Bamboo is one of them, and it’s biodegradable, it has a smaller carbon footprint, it's highly sustainable as it is a naturally renewable resource, and containers made from this material can last for years if well cared for, mainly by keeping them free of excessive liquids to avoid mold and mildew growth. It's time to become a panda!
On the other hand, shiny stainless steel, believe it or not, takes the crown when it comes to sustainability. It has become one of the best alternatives to plastic containers, and for a good reason: it's 100% recyclable, it's mostly made of scrap metal (up to 70% of stainless steel comes from recycled material), and contains no harmful chemicals.
Plus, the name itself indicates that containers made of this material will not stain, rust, or degrade. They are perfect for high or very low temperatures and don't weigh as much as glass containers do. They're a safe bet if you want to buy new eco-friendly food containers!
If you want to know more alternatives, other great green containers come from the brand Black + Blum, which are made of stainless steel with bamboo lids. This mixes the best of both worlds, the nature of bamboo and the strength of stainless steel.
Finally, Huski Home also has eco-friendly lunch boxes made from none other than rice and coconut husks, perfectly sustainable and BPA-free. I definitely love finding and supporting innovative and unique initiatives that help the environment!
When trying to figure out what to do with your old Tupperware, think twice before just tossing it in the trash!
There's no rule of thumb about when it's time to discard your old Tupperware, but when the time comes, it's better to give that old plastic container a second chance than to throw it away.
Our modern generation is far too quick to toss out anything and everything without first considering if it can be used again. Dumping an old Tupperware in the trash means it will sit for hundreds of years in a landfill, not biodegrading and serving the only purpose of polluting our environment so, at the end of the day when trying to figure out what to do with your old Tupperware, it's better to choose more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Believe me, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you are helping our Mother Earth to heal while allowing your creativity to flow with DIY projects that bring life to your home. If you happen to know any other ways to upcycle old Tupperware, share them with us in the comments section below!
Did you know we have a ton of guides here on The Eco Hub that will help you get rid of your old stuff responsibly including:
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