5 Ways to Repurpose Take-Out Containers, Utensils, and Chopsticks

A chandelier made out of recycled plastic spoons This light fixture is made of plastic spoons. Image: Studio Verissimo

You can turn chopsticks, plastic utensils, and used take-out containers into furniture, extra storage, and even lighting.

Yesterday was America Recycles Day, and this got us thinking about all those plastic containers our take-out food comes in — not to mention the utensils and chopsticks that accompany them. So we came up with five ways to repurpose take-out stuff and included some insightful recycling tidbits.

(FYI, if you’re looking for more resourceful repurposing tips, check out our crafty ideas for repurposing light bulbs and our penny-pinching projects for cats and canines.)

Ideas for reusing chopsticks

Billions of chopsticks are chucked each year: 23 billion in Japan, and a whopping 45 billion in China (so says Wikipedia). Not sure how many are thrown away in the U.S., but you know it’s not a small number.  Plus, few recycling initiatives around the world directly address this problem.

So if you can’t recycle them, upcycle them! Here are three ideas:

1. Chopstick shelves: A couple of designers in Barcelona asked a local Chinese restaurant to save all the chopsticks that were used in one weekend. When Monday rolled around, the designers had 640 chopsticks that they used to create a unique pegboard for storing books, office supplies, keys, and more. 

2. Chopstick table lamp: Stephanie Dubernard saved up her single-use chopsticks to create this stylish table lamp. We like how she diffused the light source with sheets of rice paper. (FYI, before starting any project that requires electricity, make sure you bone up on safety guidelines.)

Chopstick lamp

Credit: Stéphanie Dubernard

3. Chopstick seating: These stools created by Ryan Horsman and Jason Dembski combat chopstick waste by combining thousands of the utensils with bamboo steamers to create compact seating. One family in under a year accumulated the chopsticks used in this project. 

According to Dembski, the seats are deceptively comfortable thanks to a simple cushioning material that’s placed between the steamers and chopsticks. Not only does this provide a little give when a person sits down, it keeps the wooden utensils from slipping out of the steamers.


Credit: Ryan Horsman and Jason Dembski

Recycling tip: Some areas of Los Angeles allow you to dispose of used wooden chopsticks in green recycling bins, and plastic ones in blue bins. Check with your local municipality to see if you can do the same. If not, you could compost the wooden ones.

Ideas to reuse take-out containers and utensils

Plastic is wasteful because it’s made from petroleum, which is in short supply. Additionally, disposable plastic containers aren’t meant to be used repeatedly. Over time, harmful compounds can leak into food, especially if you use them in the microwave.

So skip reusing this stuff for food. Instead you can create additional storage space — or even a chandelier.

4. Winter hat and scarf storage: Jane, the blogger behind The Borrowed Abode, had a clever idea you could hang a hat on.  She stuck clean carry-out containers onto a wall using adhesive strips and hangs her hats on them. We think this is a great idea for winter hat and scarf storage in your garage or mudroom.

Take-out storage container

Credit: The Borrowed Abode

5. Plastic utensil chandelier: The artists at Studio Verissimo created this elegant light fixture from plastic coffee spoons. Their goal was to make a luxurious-looking lamp out of objects that were used for barely a moment before being tossed. We think they succeeded. 

Recycling tip: Unfortunately, not all plastics can be recycled in curbside programs. When in doubt about what you can put in your recycling bin, contact your local waste agency. For stuff they won’t pick up, visit Earth911 for the nearest plastic recycling center near you.

Have a great repurposing idea? Share in the comments below.