Introduction: Get Project Buckets for Free!

Get 5-gallon plastic project buckets for free, keep them out of landfills.
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Step 1: Food-grade Pickle Buckets

Chain hamburger joints get their sliced burger pickles in sturdy food-grade 5-gallon plastic buckets, and these buckets cannot be reused for their original purpose. You can use the buckets to tote and store things in the shop, cut and shape them as parts of projects, or make a wooden rack that holds rows of buckets on their sides as wide-mouth storage bins for tools, components, materials. They are useful to crafters, farmers, gardeners, homeowners, boaters, the list is endless. These buckets are more sturdy than similar ones sold at hardware stores for $4 to $6 each, and the pickle buckets also have a snap-on lid. (Photo shows soft black seal ring on underside rim of lid). A busy burger joint will empty one to three buckets a week, depending on the season. It is inconvenient for most small businesses to recycle the buckets, so they get thrown into the business' dumpster, then go into a landfill. The plastic could be recycled, but reuse is more efficient, and it actually saves the business manager money to keep the buckets out of his dumpster.
I regularly visit a nearby chain burger joint, and its manager has his buckets rinsed and set aside for me to pick up when I drop by. I offer them free to friends and neighbors and to a charity that helps local folks. You could do the same in your neighborhood, or just get a few for yourself. Bakeries, donut shops and the cake departments of grocery stores also get ingredients in buckets, and they are all much easier to clean than buckets used to ship paint and drywall compound.

Step 2: Clean the Buckets

Pickles are shipped in a salty acidic liquid, and a bucket and lid should be sloshed with hot soapy water, rinsed and allowed to air dry outdoors before use. Food-grade plastic is not absorbant, but even a little acid and salt could attack metal items stored in a bucket. To get the lid really clean, you should remove the flexible seal ring from the lid and clean it as well. Remove the ring without damaging it, when the lid is wet with soapy water, by rapping one edge of the lid hard against a solid surface. Pull the ring out by the part of the ring that slips out as a result of the rapping.
A plastic band is zipped off the lid when a bucket is first opened, and without that band, a lid will not reseal as tightly as its original seal. You can get a pretty good reseal by pressing the edge of the lid down all around. Opening a sealed lid can be tough on the fingertips, but you can buy a simple one-piece plastic tool for opening buckets at Sprawlmart, home center or paint store.
If you want to try to sell some buckets, it would probably be a good idea to remove all its paper labels.
Click to visit the official web page of the International Pickle Bucket Rescue League, featuring official spokespail "Bucky." The Buckster and I are pleased with the way it turned out,