Thinking inside the box: Some Uses for Cardboard Cartons

Jello Note Book by Madoline HatterWhen you purchase food, you are paying not only for the part of the product you intend to eat but also for the packaging, the bags, wrappers, and boxes which usually go straight in the trash. While plastic wrap and bags have little use beyond stuffing them full of trash, cardboard food cartons have a great deal of potential. And since you have bought it, you may as well use it. Here are a few examples of the many uses of cardboard cartons which you purchase along with cereal, crackers, cake mix, pizza, etc.

  • Disposable trash receptacles. Food cartons stand up nicely and are good for catching bits of trash while you are cooking, saving you the cost of trash bags. The foil-lined and plastic bags inside these cartons are often sturdier and more leak-resistant than trash bags proper and are ideal for holding food scraps and bones.
  • Throw-away cat litter boxes. Very few people relish the task of dumping out cat litter, lifting liners full of sopping litter, Frugal Disposal Cat Litter Box by Madoline Hatteror scrubbing the gray-brown clumps from the bottom and sides of cat litter boxes. You can avoid this age-old task by cutting a rectangle from of the side of a cardboard carton instead of opening the top, filling this homemade commode with litter, and throwing the entire litter box away once a day. These litter boxes can be set on newspapers or other floor protectors if you have large cats.
  • Cheap homemade notebooks. Use flat cartons as book covers, using one narrow edge as the spine. Paper can be stitched or stapled in folded sections or simply stacked. To be efficient, cut the box to fit the size of the paper rather than cutting the paper to fit the box. I made an exception with the sample pictured here because the idea of a notebook in a Jello box was too good to resist. Affix the pages to the spine with hot glue. If you want a bookmark, glue a piece of ribbon or string to the spine before gluing the pages. These are good for address books, shopping lists, anything. They can be covered with pretty paper or fabrics for a fancier look.


  • Storage and desk organizers. Cartons covered with paper or spray paint can be used for storage on shelves or desks. Cereal boxes can be cut into trays for holding paper and file folders. I have covered all sorts of boxes with gift wrap paper (bought on sale) and Japanese rice paper (received as gift) with good effect. A good coat of varnish preserves these items for years.
  • Gift boxes. For presents to family members, recycled cartons should be acceptable. After all, they will be wrapped . . . or not.
  • Craft materials for children. Encourage creativity by having children make useful or decorative items with the nice cardboard from food packaging. Providing a wastebasket (or cardboard carton) at the project area will prevent mess. Some possible crafts are:
    • Doll houses. Simple or multi-level doll houses (or horse barns) are easy to make. Boxes can be stacked or adjoined, with doors cut between them. Plastic from packaging provide transparent window glass. Furniture is easily procured from cardboard and small cartons (Jello again). These houses can be papered, carpeted (old towels?), or painted. If used as cozy homes for small pets make sure they include no unsafe materials as rodents and guinea pigs tend to eat their homes.
    • Message box. Cover and decorate cartons for each family member to hold mail, messages, gifts and treats. They can resemble mail boxes, bear the owners name, and be hung on bedroom doors. It is also easy to cut boxes into heart shapes as pictured.
    • Picture frames. Cut one face of a carton into a frame and use the other face as a backing. Cover with paper, fabric, lace or other trims (flowers, candy, knickknacks). Glue on three edges, leaving one edge for inserting artwork (or photo), or glue entire frame with artwork inside.

Heart Shaped Cardboard Carton by Madoline HatterCardboard Carton Frame by Madoline Hatter

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9 thoughts on “Thinking inside the box: Some Uses for Cardboard Cartons”

  1. Good ideas! For those who eat cold cereal, the plastic liners are great for food storage and also for pounding foods, including chicken breast, making cracker crumbs, etc. because they are tougher than your average plastic bag. I always keep a stash!

  2. I’ve reused 1 gallon milk jugs for fertilizer spreading/holding (drilled holes in the bottom). Same thing with Parmesan cheese containers. Good idea.

  3. Very creative. I remember doing this type of “craft” a lot as a kid in a developing country. I guess I grew out of it.

  4. Another idea for a standard sized -say- snack box: use it for freezing liquids (soups, broth) and shapable stuff like rice. Use a freezer bag (whatever) to line the box, fill completely and freeze. Once frozen, pull out of the box. You’ll have little bricks of frozen food that stack easily, especially if you consistently use the same sized box.
    And as said before, the liners are great for all sorts of things, even as a sandwich bag.

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