Home Connections: Giving Glass Jars a New Life

by Melissa Harding

copyright molly steinwald

In honor of Earth Day, April’s Home Connections will detail how our department uses recycled materials to enhance our programming and teach sustainability.

In last week’s Home Connections post, we talked about how our department utilizes reused materials in our programming; in many of our programs, students make crafts from reused and repurposed materials. Additionally, we repurpose items for program props, storage and general creative use. Reusing materials not only saves resources and money, but it is a great way to teach by example.

In addition to plastic and cardboard, we also like to repurpose glass jars. Many foods that we eat come in glass jars: pickles, olives and spaghetti sauce to name a few. These containers are recyclable, but we prefer to reuse them at least one more time before they are destined for the curb. Glass containers are waterproof, sealed, and often come with a lid. They are clear, meaning that you can see through them and light can penetrate inside. An empty glass jar is just a craft waiting to happen. Here are some ways that we use these items at Phipps; hopefully you will be inspired to reuse some of the glass in your own life:

Terrariums
Terrariums are not only on trend, but are a great way to give kids the experience of having their own greenhouses. Typically a terrarium is a closed ecosystem, with the water recycling itself over and over again. Any clear glass container will do; finding jars that are uniquely shaped or particularly beautiful is fun, but a spaghetti sauce jar works just fine as well. Children love to take home plants; planting a beautiful terrarium garden is a great way to combine the fun of taking home a plant with learning about tropical ecosystems, the water cycle and clean air plants. Not every terrarium has to have a lid; in fact, sometimes it is better to leave the lid off if you are planting anything that would easily die from overwatering.  Plant selection is important; some of our favorite plants to put in a terrarium with children are: mosses, spider plants, Pothos, and Philodendron.

To make your own terrarium, you will need: a glass jar (lid optional), activated charcoal (available in pet stores near the aquarium section), potting soil, plants, small stones, and other decorative objects (optional). To begin, fill an inch of the bottom of a clean jar with charcoal. Next, layer some small stones over the charcoal, followed by a layer of potting soil; this is necessary to assure proper drainage. Plant your plants and give them a small drink of water. Remember, the water that you add will remain in the terrarium until you open the lid, so just add a little. Finally, add any decorative objects you wish and close the lid. This is a great time to get creative – anything that will not decay in a wet environment is perfect for adding to a terrarium; plastic animals are a favorite of ours. You can also get creative by decorating the lid or the jar itself, taking care not to block too much of the light.

IMG_1587Pickles and Mung Beans
In all of our cooking camps, every camper makes homemade pickles and sprouts a jar of mung beans. Glass jars are perfect for this because they are easily reused and sanitized for each new camp, they are clear to let in light, and they don’t hold on to odors or tastes. These are fun activities that the campers can replicate at home and each illustrates a different lesson. When making pickles, campers learn how vinegar and salt preserves produce. When sprouting beans, they learn how a seed germinates. To top it off, both of these activities have delicious results!

To make your own pickles, you will need: a glass jar with lid, 1 cup vinegar, 1/8 cup salt, 1 quart water,1/4 cup sugar, 2 cloves of peeled garlic, cucumber slices, and dill (optional).  Place salt and sugar into your jar, adding a bit of warm water and stirring until dissolved.  Add dill, cucumber slices and garlic to jar. Fill jar with vinegar and the rest of the water. Replace the lid and swirl to mix. Put in the refrigerator, swirling each day to mix. After a week, check your pickles and see if they are done to your satisfaction. These pickles will be sweet and dilly and are best eaten slightly crunchy.

To sprout your own mung beans, you will need: a glass jar, dried mung beans, small square of cheese cloth, and a rubber band. Place a handful of mung beans into the bottom of your jar. Cover the opening with cheese cloth, holding it in place with a rubber band. Hold jar under the faucet and run water into it; swirl to moisten all seeds and then invert to let all the water run out. Place your jar in a dark place to germinate. Every day, check your beans and repeat the watering process. In several days, you will have sprouts. You can eat them on sandwiches or just by themselves!

March_1_13_camp_19Lava Lamps
There are many interesting organisms that are bioluminescent, such as lightning bugs, glow worms and fox-fire fungus. This property is fun to teach about, as every child loves things that glow in the dark. One way to illustrate how chemicals combine inside of these critters to make them glow is to create a lava lamp. Using oil, denture cleaner and food coloring, lava lamps show how these reactions take place. Glass jars are perfect for this because they seal well and are clear, making it easy to watch the reaction inside.

To make your own lava lamp, you will need: small glass jar with lid, canola oil, water, denture cleaner tablet, blue or green food coloring, and a flashlight. To begin, fill you jar 3/4 of the way full of oil. Add 20 drops of food coloring  and then fill up your jar with water, leaving an inch free at the top. Add a denture tablet and close immediately. Invert the jar a few times to mix. Turn off the lights and shine a flashlight through the jar. The mixture inside will bubble as the tablet dissolves; shining the light through the jar makes it look like a real lava lamp. Repeat as desired!

Storage
People have reused glass jars as storage containers for many years. A glass jar is perfect for storing buttons, nails or any other small items. They are clear, so you will always know what is inside them, and they look beautiful lined up on a shelf. Some people store all of the grains and pastas in their pantry in glass jars; it’s both trendy and sustainable!

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Hopefully some of these fun ideas will help you think about ways to repurpose the glass jars in your own home. Once you start thinking of the items in your recycle bin as resources instead of trash, anything is possible!

For more ideas, check out Eight Ways to Reuse Glass Jars Around the House at Simple Homemade or 50 Ways to Re-purpose and Reuse Glass Jars at By Stephanie Lynn.

If you are interested in creating a fancy terrarium, check out Terrarium Ideas and Inspiration at By Stephanie Lynn. Very pretty!

The above photos were taken by Molly Steinwald, Christie Lawry and Pam Russell.

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