Last month, I dug around under my kitchen sink for old glass vinegar bottles, rummaged in kitchen cabinets, grabbed the tote bag where I used to keep my reusable cloth produce bags crumpled, and started putting together a zero waste grocery shopping kit: keeping everything in one place (a dusted-off basket that used to hold shoes) to make packing for a grocery run easier. The move also allowed me to set aside some old, cleaned-out vinegar bottles specifically for future bulk vinegar purchases; previously, all the old bottles had been jumbled up under my sink, an assortment used variously for cleaning vinegar, sometimes, and eating vinegar, other times. Much better to keep those two purposes separate, if only for peace of mind.
For this installment of Nothing New, the series where we chat through how to start going zero waste without buying... anything new, I wanted to make a plug for keeping and cleaning out old glass bottles instead of purchasing brand-new ones. It's a note I'm directing mostly to myself, though maybe you'll take me up on the idea, too. I've tried lots of containers for purchasing bulk liquids: swingtop glass bottles, mason jars, even water bottles in a pinch.
All worked fine, none worked perfectly. For some of these, I was been able to store the liquid in the container I used for purchasing it, which is always my preference for simplicity's sake. For others, like the water bottle (for obvious reasons) and the mason jars (because the metal lids rust in contact with vinegar) and wide-mouth jars (they get drippy when pouring liquids), I've gotten the bulk liquids home from the store only to have to decant them again into a different container.
I'd bought bulk liquids in old vinegar and olive oil bottles a few times too, but kept thinking I would find a magic, better container than the bottles saved from past vinegar purchases. Something a bit more uniform, or easier to clean. I had this nagging feeling that old vinegar bottles weren't a long-term solution: that something else was bound to come along, that something bought especially for said purpose would surely work better than something merely reused.
Noooo. Noo no no no no. It's true: sometimes things bought specifically with for a given purpose work better than something scrounged up from around the house. But certainly not always, and when my mind jumps to buying something new before using what I have, I try to take a step back and check in. I'm not always as good at this as I'd like to be. I have a weakness for things that are both functional and beautiful and have trouble loving things that don't fall into both camps. These old glass bottles, scrubbed clean of their original branding, however, do. I can overlook the plastic caps with their stamped-on best-by dates and admit that, actually, these are the solution I've been looking for.
Case in point: they're literally meant to hold vinegar and other cooking liquids. They're designed for that purpose. What other thing out there on the market could possibly be better? (Note to self, nothing). The lids don't rust, the sides don't drip, the glass doesn't leach. They're a solution that will last me years, until the vinegar eats away at the plastic lid eventually. (Does that happen? Seems like it might. Gonna put it to the test).
A few notes on using old bottles anew:
-I've taken to scrubbing the labels off. I like the look of the clean bottles better than the look of the labeled ones, sure, but I also think it's less confusing for cashiers: if they see a bottle with a traditional label, they may not recognize it as a bulk purchase and instead might try to scan the barcode instead. Better to remove all doubt, even if it takes some elbow grease.
-Bottles with wide bodies and small necks can take longer than expected to dry after washing. I check to see if they're fully dry by turning them upside down and waiting a beat. If a stream of water runs out, they're definitely not dry (duh). If no water runs out, I still like to leave them uncapped for a few more days to make sure they're fully dry; I'd hate to have a few drops contaminate a bottle of oil and cause it to spoil more quickly. Safe, not sorry.
-For bulk oils that may not stay so happy when exposed to light, you can save an old dark glass olive oil bottle instead of a clear glass one, or simply store your clear bottle full of oil in a cabinet, out of sight of the light.
-I can't find certain favorite vinegars in bulk near me (white wine, where are you?), so bottles to reuse are easy enough for me to acquire since I still occasionally purchase vinegar in glass rather than in bulk. If you have great bulk options available to you and never need to purchase packaged vinegar, I bet you could convince some friends to save their glass jars for you instead.
-The any jar will do philosophy works for things besides bulk liquids, too, of course.
Tips on reusing these bottles for the rest of us? A favorite brand of bottle you like to hoard? Would love to hear.