Tupperware has become synonymous with plastic food containers. After its introduction in the 1940s, tupperware parties became a thing, and many households quickly adopted tupperware as a kitchen staple. As a result, many homes have at least a set of tupperware over five years old. Some are brand new, while others have experienced the wear and tear of use over many years.
Nevertheless, plastic containers can leach chemicals into our food as they degrade. Furthermore, simply discarding these containers is dangerous to our environment, adding to plastic pollution.
This article explores what to do with old Tupperware, looking at how to repurpose and recycle your old plastic containers. You will also discover ways you can reuse them without causing plastic pollution.
Tupperware containers are less durable than metal or glass containers because manufacturers use different plastic materials to make food storage containers. Your tupperware plastic containers are old if you have had them since 2010. Tupperware has a lifespan of 20 years, depending on quality.
However, some factors can help you spot if your tupperware is past its best. They include:
Plastic tupperware can help store food and avoid single-use plastics. But unfortunately, we didn’t understand the dangers of using plastic products to store food until 2010. Before that, most plastic food containers contained harmful chemicals like bisphenol-A.
These toxic chemicals slowly break down and leach as we constantly use and wash each tupperware container. As a result, they enter the food we store in these plastic containers.
Wear and tear causes these tupperware containers to break into tiny microscopic pieces called microplastics, which we are at risk of ingesting.
Discoloration occurs when you keep acidic foods in tupperware food storage containers. These foods include carrots, curry, tomato, beetroot, and blueberries. Although tupperware discoloration happens when you reuse them, this could also be a sign that your container is getting old. If the stains and color patches bother you, let your tupperware go.
Foul odors are another sign that your tupperware plastic containers are old. Foul odors may accompany the stains and discolorations of an old tupperware container. If you’ve washed and sterilized the tupperware, but the smell persists, it may be time to let it go. This is important because the smell could transfer to your food. Or worse, the bacteria causing the smell could.
When your containers no longer have lids or caps, it’s time to find them another purpose. You may no longer be able to use them to protect food from environmental factors, for freezer storage, etc.
Also, your tupperware is old when there are cracks all over it. You should recycle plastic storage containers when they melt, break, or have any deformity. The purpose of a plastic container is to seal and protect the food stored inside. So, it defeats its purpose when it has any breakage or missing part.
You know vintage tupperware by its unusual texture. Plastic containers have smooth surfaces, but they begin to have a weird texture due to wear and tear. When you notice your plastic containers have an odd texture, it is time to recycle and replace them.
Most people do not know what to do with old tupperware, so they throw it away. Unfortunately, disposing of tupperware wrongly leads to an increase in environmental pollution. Plastic products take up to 500 years before decomposing, leading to plastic pollution in our environment.
So, recycling is important; throwing your old plastic containers inside a recycling bin instead of tossing them in trash cans and landfills. You protect the environment and human health when you recycle your old tupperware.
Tupperware is recyclable, but only if you are careful. Tupperware does not biodegrade in landfills. Instead, it breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic, contaminating groundwater and attracting wildlife such as birds and turtles. These animals may die from ingesting these plastics or become injured due to the sharp edges of broken plastic containers which have been exposed to sunlight for years on end.
Recycling old tupperware is an easy way to help the environment by reducing plastic waste at home and saving resources needed for manufacturing new items with virgin plastic materials that are not biodegradable in landfills.
Recycling programs are picky about the type of plastic they recycle. So you should check in with your local recycling facility to discover the kind of plastic they accept in their recycling programs. You can also browse our recycling tips to learn more about recycling other waste around the home and read up on what you can’t recycle.
However, most recycling programs follow a standard procedure. Manufacturers also aid this by putting a recycling symbol on the bottom of plastic storage containers. The Resin Identification Code, aka recycling symbol, allows you to know the resin content of your old plastic containers. So you can sort them accordingly into your local recycling bin.
Numbers 1, 2, 5, and 4 are recyclable, while numbers 3, 6, and 7 are not. You should clean and dry your vintage tupperware before dropping them at your local recycling programs. Also, don’t recycle tupperware and other plastic containers without any lids attached. The only exception is when the airtight covers are missing.
First, a triangle formed by three arrows facing each other is on the bottom of unbranded and branded tupperware. It shows that it is recyclable. Inside the triangle are the numbers representing the material used to make the plastic.
Recycling centers use a number system of seven to label tupperware products. This number system indicates a tupperware product’s suitability to undergo the recycling process when necessary. The numbers also indicate the type of plastic used to make your tupperware products. Here are the numbers and the plastic materials it is attached to:
PET represents polyethylene terephthalate, the material used to make plastic water bottles, cups, salad dressing bottles, butter, and jam jars. Manufacturers use PET for single-use and disposable products. Also, it is the plastic with the most minor leaching tendencies among other plastics. As a result, almost all recycling centers around the world accept them.
At number two, we have High-Density Polyethylene. HDPE creates trash can liners, juice and soda bottles, yogurt containers, and milk jugs. They are durable and don’t break down efficiently. Manufacturers tag HDPE plastics as safe because it also has low leaching tendencies. However, only some recycling facilities accept products made with HDPE.
Polyvinyl Chloride is the third number on the Resin Identification Code system. PVC is unsafe because it leaches harmful toxins like vinyl chloride and other toxic chemicals. Manufacturers use this material to produce detergent bottles and cooking oil bottles. Many recycling centers don’t accept products made with PVC.
Tupperware products tagged with number four are Low-Density Polyethylene. It is a durable material used to produce food film, squeezable bottles, grocery bags, and freezer bags. It is safe and reusable. Also, it doesn’t leach harmful toxins. Unfortunately, unlike numbers one and two, only a couple of recycling centers accept LDPE.
Number five is polypropylene, a material used to make food plates, bowls, cutlery, syrup, and ketchup bottles. It is one of the most used resin materials for plastic products, and most recycling facilities around the world accept it.
Manufacturers use polystyrene to make disposable plastics like straws, egg crates, meat trays, disposable plates, and cups. So, it has a high risk of leaching harmful toxins into the inside content. Also, it degrades slowly. Due to this, recycling facilities don’t accept it. It costs recycling companies a lot of energy to recycle polystyrene plastics.
O represents other plastics like acrylic, nylon, compostable plastics, and polycarbonate. Manufacturers use them to make bulk food containers and five-gallon bottles. However, recycling companies do not accept products tagged with the number seven.
Check out our deeper dive into the different types of plastic waste for more info.
You can repurpose tupperware plastic food storage containers into ingenious plant pots and herb planters. It makes it easy to start a mini-garden in your home without spending money purchasing plant pots and vases.
Furthermore, the lid attached to a tupperware can collect excess water from your small plants and herbs. Repurposing your old tupperware is an excellent way of practicing sustainable gardening and avoiding plastic pollution.
Another way to repurpose old tupperware is by turning it into an organizer box. If you have a large tupperware, you can divide it into sections using cartons. Once you have your selections, you can use them to store art and craft materials, toys, and stationaries. You can also use it as a jewelry box or toiletry kit. This way, your space is clean and organized without spending extra money.
As a person who has a composter or is about to start composting in their home, you can turn your large tupperware containers into compost buckets. It saves you from the stress of purchasing expensive compost buckets.
You must label the tupperware you want to use as a compost bucket and keep it at a designated spot in your kitchen. Then, you can easily transport it to your compost site when you fill it up with organic trash.
If you can’t recycle your old tupperware, you can sell them to second-hand stores. They are worth a couple of bucks, depending on your selling condition.
Also, online shopping platforms like Etsy and eBay offer a variety of old tupperware. You can enlist yours for sale and get a good amount of money from it. It is better to sell it to a thrift store than to dispose of it improperly.
Why buy a plastic trash can when you can convert an old plastic container into a trash bin? Depending on your desired size, you can convert your tupperware into a trash bin for your car or room. It saves you from purchasing more plastic products.
Another excellent way to reuse the plastic plates you have is by converting them into first-aid kits. Then, all you have to do is organize them into your desired categories and label them. Again, it is cheap and effective.
Tupperware started producing BPA-free containers in 2010. Therefore, all tupperware made before 2010 is at risk of leaking BPA into its contents. You should recycle and upcycle tupperware produced before 2010 as it is dangerous for your health, mainly if you use them in the microwave. Heat allows BPA to leak freely.
Now that we know of vintage Tupperware's dangerous effects on our health and environment, we should take extra precautions to recycle it properly. Suppose, for example, the local recycling center doesn’t accept your type of tupperware. In that case, you can follow our guidelines on what to do with old tupperware.
Furthermore, you should invest in eco-friendly containers for storing food instead of buying more tupperware containers to replace the ones you recycle or upcycle. There are numerous containers, eco-friendly lunch boxes, and alternatives to Ziploc bags made with sustainable materials.
These eco-friendly alternatives are glass, stainless steel, and bamboo containers.
Also, you can use cloth bags and plastic wrap alternatives. These sustainable options are guaranteed to keep your food fresh.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.