Reusing material that already exists instead of buying new is an important aspect of reducing waste, and can be an exciting way to rethink items you already have on hand. Glass jars provide a great resource for storage, decorative house elements, and preserving. You may have a few mason jars hanging around your house, especially if you are an avid canner like myself. But we come across jars in many other ways, and usually don’t think about it when we toss them into the blue bin. Many food and house items you buy right now come in glass jars, and all of those glass jars can be reused in creative ways. 

Before I get into the fancy details about wonderful ways to reuse and recreate with jars, I want to discuss the labels on food jars that can be very difficult to remove. As a bit of a perfectionist, this is the number one thing that aggravated me about keeping sauce and other food jars around. Thankfully, I have two easy ways to remove labels from glass jars, that will make you rethink throwing them out. 


Removing labels with sodium carbonate (washing soda)

#1 The first trick involves soaking the jar in a bowl or pot of very hot water from the tap. In the container, mix a couple tablespoons of sodium carbonate, also known as washing soda. I noticed that the main ingredient in my Nellie’s laundry detergent is sodium carbonate, which worked great for removing the labels. Soak the jar in the sodium water for about an hour. The label will peel off easily, and may leave a bit of glue residue on the jar. By rubbing the glue in circles with your figures or scraping it gently with a card, all the glue should also remove effortlessly. 

If you don’t have washing soda, you can easily make it yourself. Sodium carbonate can be made from sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F, and place your baking soda into a pie or bread pan. Leave the baking soda in the oven for an hour. Once you take it out, the sodium bicarbonate will have released excess moisture, turning into sodium carbonate that you can use to remove labels! 

#2 The second trick to removing jar labels uses the oil and baking soda method. Pull most of the paper part of the label off leaving the glue behind. Mix one teaspoon of baking soda with one teaspoon of oil and rub the mixture onto the stuck label glue. Leave this for 15 mins and then remove with a cloth or card.  

Both these methods work well, but personally I prefer using the first method as it’s less messy, cleans the jar at the same time, and is a little less effort as well. 


There are many things you can do with glass jars before you recycle them, and this post will showcase a few good ones for your zero waste knowledge base. I love reusing jars, and I hope you will find these ideas to be inspiring and of course, useful! 

1. Jars as Storage Compartments

Photographer for Rethinking Jars: Nicholas Boulrice

Weather it’s for craft materials, bathroom trinkets, or office supplies, glass jars are great at holding items and organizing materials in any space. These are my reused smaller sized jars that originally held specialty honey and gifted body scrubs.

2. Decorations

Holiday decorations can be made quite easily with a jar and some tiny lights or coloured items themed to the season. They make for great frosted snow-people or snow globes, as well as great center pieces for formal events.

3. Planters 

Spike, my first cactus, outgrew the smaller pot and has now been replanted in a reused candle jar

Jars are great for plant terrariums or containers for plants that don’t need a lot of watering. Jars don’t have any opportunity for water drainage for the plant, but you can see the amount of water in the soil through the glass. This means you have to be careful with how much you water, and you can also monitor the moisture by being able to view the whole pot instead of only the topsoil. I love to plant succulents and cacti in old candle jars, or start succulent propagation in smaller jars like this one. 

4. Shopping in Bulk

At the bulk barn or other bulk stores, you can bring your own containers to fill yourself for snacks that are waste free! If you have never tried bringing your own containers to a bulk store, just make sure that you have your jars weighed at the register before you fill them. They will put a sticker or tag on the jar, for the weight of the jar that will be taken away from the final product weight. Sometimes these stores also have incentive weeks where you can get extra discounts for bringing your own fillable containers (July, for Plastic Free July!).

5. Utensil Holders

Perhaps for pencils and pens, or in the kitchen, jars have mastered holding things. For larger items though, such as spatulas I prefer using widemouth jars, 78mm or wider, which makes it easier to fit more items.

6. Preserves!

Fridge Pickles made in a reused store bought pickle jar

This one is my favourite because I preserve a lot of food such as jelly, salsa, relish, and pickles. Fridge pickles and freezer jams are easy recipes to make that don’t require sealable jars. Linked here is by far my favourite pickle recipe that has the option of making processed or fridge pickles. I have tried it both ways and they taste the exact same! I would highly suggest using pickling cucumbers and garden grown dill if you have it as well.

7. An extra Savings Account

My liquor $ jar

Sometimes it’s nice to have a little change hanging around. In our house we use extra cash gained from bottle deposits as our liquor fund. Jars are great for tip jars and piggy banks!

8. Gift Giving

Jars make for an environmentally friendly form of gift wrapping, putting gift items neatly inside and dressing it up with a festive ribbon. Jar cookies and layered soup recipes also make for great gifts given in jars, where the receiver can make the recipe by simply adding water to your prepared gift ingredients, and baking it. When I was a kid, we often gave these kinds of food-jar gifts to our teachers at Christmas, but of course this idea makes for a very thoughtful yet easy gift idea for anyone! You can make the jar more fun by adding scallop edged fabric, chalk paint, or ribbon.

9. Candles

Candles made from old candles, in a lovely decorative jar

When you use a store bought candle, eventually that candle gets to the lower end of the jar, kills the wick, and becomes impossible to light. You can remelt wax from old candles by putting the old candle jar into boiled water. Once the wax melts, it can be poured into a different jar with a new wick. I pour the wax from my candles into the prettiest candle jars I have, and then reuse the simple ones as planters. You’ll end up with a layered looking candle like this one in our reused jar.

10. Crafts

Sauce jars ready to be re-vamped!

The last one is more of a crafty technique you can use to dress up food jars, as they all come with different coloured metal lids and in different shapes. If you want to make them coordinate in a room or use them in an important event such as a wedding, they can be transformed by using chalk paint to create a matching set of jars. Chalk paint is fairly common, and can even be put into the oven to seal the paint and prevent chips. You can also seal it by coating the surface in mod podge or the brand sealant, which will protect the surface more than just the oven. If you are going for more of a distressed look like me, scratches might even work with you! It does take a few layers to cover the jar or lid, however it will make the jar look like a completely new container!

Distressed jar and painted jar lids

I hope these ten ideas have inspired you to keep your jars around for their many uses and functions. I love to branch out the ways I can reuse, learning more interesting approaches to repurposing and getting closer to living zero waste. If you have unique ways you reuse jars, leave me a comment and share a pint of your knowledge!


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