December 7, 2021

Green Industry

Your Ideas: Let Nature Clean the Recyclables


In the spring of 2021, I had to clean out a plastic Nutella jar so I could recycle it. I find it very difficult to clean remnants of Nutella, peanut butter, or honey out of plastic or glass jars. And I’d rather not wash those remnants down the drain because fat, oil, and grease are bad for the plumbing and septic system. Then I heard a tip on how to make a homemade ant poison, and it gave me an idea about how I could let nature clean food residue out of my recyclables.

The tip was to mix Borax with peanut butter and put it into a plastic container with several holes punched in it so the ants get in. This is called a protein-source poison. Honey is good for making what is called a sugar-source poison for ants. Of course, I didn’t want to poison anything; I wanted to see if the ants would clean residue from food containers.

First Test: Nutella Jar in My Backyard Woods

I decided to test the idea and leave the Nutella jar outside where the ants could find it and, hopefully, clean it out for me. For my purposes, I didn’t need to punch any holes; I could just leave the lid off the jar. Also, I didn’t want to invite the ants inside, so I put the jar in the woods in the backyard, away from the house.

Within 24 hours, the jar had attracted a boatload of ants, and I expected to find a nice clean jar in a few more days.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered the various small animals that roam through our backyard — dogs, cats, and foxes to name a few. Nutella contains chocolate, which isn’t good for dogs and I noticed both a dog and a fox near the jar shortly before the jar disappeared. I’m assuming a fox took it someplace it felt safe. (I hope it wasn’t a dog.) Since I haven’t heard of a neighbor’s dog getting sick, I figured that it wasn’t a dog. But I also don’t want a fox or other animal getting sick or taking the jar.

Second Test: a Bit Closer to the House

So, for the next experiment, I left the jar a few feet from the house under some bushes. I hoped it was near enough that a fox, perhaps, would not want to come that close, but also far enough away that the ants would not be drawn into the house.

And it worked. The jar remained there for the week or so it took for the ants to clean it out, so I assume was a good location. An even better place might be near our mailbox since a nest of ants seems to want to make a home inside the box.

The Ants Clean Clean Out the Food Residue

Recently, we emptied a butter tub. I brushed some bread crumbs into it and left it at the same location under the bushes. This is what it looked like before I put it outside:

Empty butter tub with residue of butter and crumbs
Here’s the butter tub before I put it out for the ants.

After two days, the ants had almost cleaned out the tub:

Ants have almost cleaned the butter tub
After just two days, the ants are still at work and it’s almost clean.

I’ve been doing this all spring and summer with any food container I thought the ants could clean for us. I expect that winter will be challenging; I may need to hold on to these types of recyclables until spring so that nature can clean them.

Honey Jar Tip

While I could do the same thing to clean out a honey jar, I got a better idea. Since I like hot tea with honey when I have a sore throat, I know that honey is water-soluble. So, why waste the honey left in the jar? Why not mix in some hot water and turn the honey into honey-water? I just save the honey water in the fridge for when I’ll need it in the winter.

About the Author

Phil Karras is a retired physics professional who worked his way through college and grad school repairing electronics. Author of numerous electronics and ham radio articles, he maintains a TV antenna and electronics blog and a ham radio website.





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