Updated on 07.29.07

Ten Frugal Things To Do With An Empty Vitamin Water (Or Other Plastic Beverage) Container

Trent Hamm

Last night, I tried some Vitamin Water (a beverage somewhat similar to Gatorade). When I was finished, I sat there looking at the empty plastic container, thinking that it was rather ridiculous that millions of these were filling landfills, especially when I could think of so many uses for them. Here are ten of the best ones – perhaps these will help you get extra use out of the plastic container of your favorite beverage.

Use it for drinking water Just refill it from the tap and carry around some water with you. I often do this with plastic containers, using it to store a beverage for the road. I regularly put iced tea in it, too.

Make homemade barbecue sauce It’s a perfect storage container for homemade barbecue sauce. Here’s a good recipe:

In a small pan, combine:

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 tablespoon chopped green bell pepper
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Cook while stirring over medium heat until it’s near boiling, then let it cool for a bit while stirring, then pour it into a storage container

This will nicely fill a beverage bottle, preferably one with a wider mouth (like a Gatorade or Vitamin Water bottle).

Make an old-fashioned hot water bottle – with a twist Take the bottle, fill it with tap water, add a pinch of salt and some very dark food coloring. Then sit this bottle on a windowsill on a sunny but cold day. In the evening, check the bottle – it’ll likely be quite warm. I used to do this when I was a kid to make a warm bottle to store under the blankets on a cold night.

Save pocket change The wide mouth of the bottle will fit change of any denomination, so it’s a great way to store pocket change. I keep one in my vehicle for this very purpose.

Go bowling with your toddler son We’ll set up several bottles and then toss a ball at them to knock them all over. We’ve done this for hours in the living room.

Store paint This is a perfect container for paint storage for detail work, especially when multiple people are splitting a can. Just cut the top off of the container and use the main body for storage – it’s a great little container for trim work and other smaller tasks.

Plant a small plant One of these containers with the top chopped off is a perfect container to grow a green onion, a scallion, or some herbs. Several of them on a windowsill can provide an interesting little garden for an apartment.

Store golf tees I use one to store golf tees. Tees usually come in a bag and thus when you open one, the other tees spill all over the place, making a mess and causing you to lose some of them. Instead, I open the bag and put them in such a container before I ever even head to the golf course.

Collect drained oil Wide-mouth beverage containers are absolutely wonderful oil collectors, for times when you’re changing oil on a riding lawnmower or such. They’re small for using on cars, but perfect for lawnmowers, tillers, and any other motorized device you may use at home.

Make homemade salad dressing Much like the barbecue sauce, it’s a perfect storage container for homemade salad dressing. Here’s a good recipe:

1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed mint leaves
1/4 cup wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil

Mix these all in the beverage container and shake well. A larger container can hold a double batch!

The next time you go to throw out a beverage container, think about it for a minute and ask yourself if you might have a better use for it.

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  1. Kate says:

    I read that these types of bottles are not meant to be reused for drinking, that the plastic is not stable enough and will leach chemicals. They can be reused for things like paint storage, or other storage as you mentioned. But it is not safe to reuse them for food or drinks. If you go to the dollar store, you can find plastic sports bottles which ARE safe to be reused.

  2. yvie says:

    I’ve heard this too, but something about it doesn’t make sense to me. How does the bottle know it is being reused? What about the original contents of the bottle? What if a plastic bottle of Coke had been sitting on a store shelf for months, would it then be toxic to drink the contents?

    We tend to reuse these bottles for when we go somewhere and we need a drink, but not more than once or twice; we don’t want to press our luck.

    I try never to buy bottled water though. A waste of money and bad for the environment too.


  3. Brian says:

    What about recycling it. This will cost you nothing, save the planet, and even give you an exclusive father son trip if you wanted to make it that.

  4. Josh says:

    You could always just recycle the bottle. There is minimal effort in throwing it in the recycle bin.

  5. In our family, water bottles – small and large – don’t get thrown into the recycle bin until they have split or otherwise can’t hold water any longer. This time of year we keep a larger supply on hand in case of hurricanes. If a storm is heading our way, all bottles are put in the freezer. It’s much smarter than dealing with bagged ice. One frozen gallon jug will keep a good size cooler cold for at least 24 hours – and provide drinking water once it has thawed.

  6. Bones says:

    Same here. I will re-use a little plastic bottle a number of times. The best use is in summer: I fill it with tap water and put it in the freezer overnight. Next day I have a long lasting source of cold water. I used to do this when I was in university.

    This reminds me I want to write a little post about how the price of the same bottle of water goes up, getting nearer to the station..

  7. Zachary says:

    Recycle it and take the cash.

  8. Engineer says:

    I refill mine with tap water. A lot of the bottled water you buy in the store is tap water anyway.

    Sometimes I freeze it so I have cold water on a trip. But when I freeze water in it, I don’t fill it completely, and squeeze it in the middle before sealing so as to allow room for expansion as it freezes.

  9. crankywench says:

    Ditto on taking care re-using the bottles for food or beverage. I would especially avoid using vinegar or oil in the bottles. The vinegar is an acid, and the oil will eventually leach through the bottle. With regards to the oil, for example: ever had a plastic bottle of cooking oil feel gummy on the outside after a few months? That’s not just from oil dripping on the outside when you use it, it’s also the oil leaching through the bottle. Yeccccch….

  10. David says:

    Great Article. I do this all the time all my change is in Snapple bottles, and I refill my water bottles all the time it saves a ton of money. It is great when you can think of other uses for products that would normally go to waste. You are also saving the EARTH! :-)

  11. Brian says:

    The idea that you can’t reuse these bottles is an urban legend. There is nothing that’s going to leech into the new water that you put in it that would not have leeched into the old beverage that it came with. As for leeching toxins, there are some people who would argue that the polycarbonate in Nalgene-style water bottles is a significantly higher leeching risk that the lower PET number in Vitamin Water bottles. Whether or not that’s true, the idea that you can only use a bottle once is wasteful. Just make sure you wash it well between uses.

  12. Danielle says:


    According to snopes.com they say that urban legend is false. Plastic bottles will not leach chemicals….

  13. Kristi says:

    Used bottles are wonderful for organizing small items in a garage. You can have bottles for different sized nails, thumbtacks, screws, washers, bolts, etc.

    There are also several children’s craft ideas that you can do with used bottles. You can make bottle characters. If you have a program like PrintShop, it’s easy to design faces and clothes that you can just print out and then cut out. Then just buy some craft pipe cleaners for arms and legs and you’re set.

    There are so many items around the house that we can still use. For example, old film rolls or old spice containers are excellent sizes for squirting shampoo into and having an instant travel shampoo bottle. (Of course, the kind with the screw on lid are the best here).

    For those of you who recycle – that’s great! I find these uses for things though because my community does not have any recycling services. They set up recycling at Wal-Mart or at the library a couple times a year, that’s it. Sad huh?

  14. Bones says:

    One thing I never ever throw away are those little plastic tubes used for camera film. I have never owned a traditional camera, I started digital, but I ot these from my father and I continue using them to store little things. There is nothing so useful!

    On the very least you can use them to store the various memory cards of your digital camera ;)

  15. Jakob says:

    This is exactly what I expected to find out after reading the title o.us poetry. Thanks for informative article

  16. Or be really frugal (and eco-friendly) and don’t buy it in the first place!

  17. Tubaman-Z says:

    Of course the U.S. has notably one of the safest water supplies in the world…and we buy the most bottled water of any nation (total gallons that is. Italy actually leads the world in per capita consumption – 2006 data, see http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/2006/Update51.htm)

    For a frugal suggestion, invest in a Nalgene bottle of the appropriate size to fit the cup holder in your car and refill from your tap. If you live in an area with a lot of chlorine in the water (or sulfur if you have well water), use a filter.

  18. taoofcash says:

    36oz plastic bottles are readily available here in Iraq for many things. One is cutting the bottle in half and storing individual drink packets (Crystal Light, etc), on a desk as a pen holder, or as a small toothbrushing station. They have proven themselves as excellent barbecue sauce dispensers as well.

  19. melanie says:

    These bottles are great for infant toys. Fill each one with something different-
    – colored water + oil
    – beads/buttons (make a great noise maker)
    – water + glitter
    – sand + shells
    – just about anything

    Make sure to glue the top on for safety. These are often played with more than “real” toys.

  20. Lisa Knight says:

    DIY network is running a “Tip” that if you wrap the threads of the bottle (or jar) with plumber’s tape the paint will last longer.

    I reuse water bottles all the time, if you are really concerned about the “reuse” issues (report I watched was e coli & other bacteria not chemicals) just disinfect them with bleach (capfull into a sink of water & soak for a minute). If it’s good enough to pass Health Department codes for restaurants it should be good enough for home.

  21. Rob W says:

    Some good ideas, plus (in comments) the excellent idea to simply avoid buying the plastic bottles wherever possible.

    A few calls to “just recycle it”, which seems fine at first blush, but isn’t at all the same thing. Think about it – buying bottled water means you’re paying for the creation of the (basically indestructible forever and ever) plastic, plus for the fuel burned in filling and getting that bottle to you. When you recycle it, you’re paying for *more* energy spent in transportation and processing (since you pay indirectly for the recycling costs), the plastic is reused possibly once, then it ends up in a landfill anyway.

    All that, when the other option is to simply drink the water that’s already available *in your home* at no additional cost, perfectly safe, and just as tasty (possibly after you add a filter).

    Just some food for thought.

  22. coral says:

    I use these hard platic drink bottles to dispose of diabetic/insulin needles. You shouldn’t use soft plastic (like plastic milk jugs) because the needles can easily poke through. Make sure you replace the cap before throwing them away, though.

  23. Joe Tyron says:

    Great! What are your suggestions for popsicle sticks?

  24. crazypumpkin says:

    The issue isn’t leeching chemicals as others have said. But what everyone has missed is cleaning. These bottles are very hard to clean appropriately, and things can and do grow in them. One reuse, two reuses, you’re usually ok, but throwing them out after that is highly advisable. You can’t get into all the little nooks and crannies to clean it thoroughly.
    The university I work for has an interesting addition to the standard recycling logo. Our recycling boxes say “RETHINK, reduce, reuse, recycle”. I think rethinking even buying these bottles is more important. I have two liter bottles and one half litter bottle and always have water in one of them with me.

  25. Jenners says:

    Take the top half of the one you cut in half for a plant, and you also have a nice funnel…

  26. soothsayer says:

    Yvie: What about the original contents of the bottle? What if a plastic bottle of Coke had been sitting on a store shelf for months, would it then be toxic to drink the contents?

    Yes. Even if water sits in a bottle for weeks or months you can smell and taste the plastic in the liquid. Coke and other carbonated, acidic beverages sitting inside bottles are even more problematic because they react with the plastic.

    This is not urban legend. There’s an article in the Sept/Oct 2007 Mother Jones, with research citations, which concludes that certain plastics #3 PVC, #6 Polystyrene and #7 Polycarbonate are linked to birth defects and diseases. They contain chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol-A, which have been found in significant quantities in the urine of the majority of Americans tested– even newborn babies.

    Please visit my blog to read more.

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