How to Get Free 5 Gallon Buckets or Other Containers

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By Bryan Lynch •  6 min read

Preppers have a lot of different things on their minds. Things like budgets, whether or not they have the right supplies or if they have enough supplies, and on and on the list goes.

An item that is frequently on my mind is containers. Without them our supplies are left unprotected, harder to organize, and difficult to transport.

For the above reasons, it is important to have the best containers possible. However, that can be hard to do when a budget is also a concern.

It will require your time, some leg work, and possibly some elbow grease, but there is a cheaper solution than always buying brand new containers.

Just like us, businesses produce a lot of daily waste. For example, all those goods you see on the shelves at the store do not come like that. They are shipped in larger containers and those containers are usually thrown away.

This produces a lot of trash that a business then must pay to get rid of.

For this reason, businesses are often more than willing to give you said containers as long as you ask and make arrangements.

I would like to note that it was easier to get these containers for free years ago. Once prepping became more popular businesses caught on to this and some stopped giving them away for free and started charging for them.

Most of the time when I ran into this the prices were quite fair, perhaps a few bucks per container, which is still cheaper than you would pay for a brand new one.

Types of Containers

The first thing that you should understand is that there are basically two kinds of containers you are going to find. Food grade containers and non-food grade containers.

If a container is made out of food-grade materials, then it is okay to store food in. These are great for building up your bulk emergency food supplies.

Even though a non-food-grade container is not recommended for storing food, it still has a ton of other uses. They can be used to store non-food items in such as tools and prepackaged goods. They can be used for yard work, as a tool bucket, for transporting materials, and anything else your imagination can come up with.

Where To Go To Get Containers

Here are several places that you can check for free or next to free buckets and containers for your prepping needs.

Bakeries and Restaurants

These are great places to find food-grade containers because they go through containers a lot. Once the containers are empty they don’t really need them.

Bakeries often get ingredients, like icing, in pales and buckets. Sometimes these buckets are not full five-gallon buckets but the smaller sizes make them much easier to move around because they do not become too heavy.

Restaurants may have five-gallon buckets but they are also a good source of aluminum cans, like #10, and other plastic containers that may have held condiments, spices, or coffee. Both types of containers have a wide variety of uses.

You should ask if the buckets/containers were used for anything else before taking them. Sometimes the containers are used for cleaning purposes and they may have had harsh cleaning solutions put into them.

Hardware Stores

Given the nature of what they sell, tools and hardware are often packed in heavy-duty containers.

Here are two smaller, but heavy-duty containers, I got for $1.50 apiece at a local hardware store. The containers were used for bulk hardware and now I use them for organizing supplies at home. They are heavy-duty, came with lids, and have carrying handles. 

Ask Tradesmen

Similar to the previous section, tradesmen often purchase supplies, like paint for example, that come in buckets or other containers.

They will usually keep several for themselves because they are so useful, but there will come a limit to how many they want to keep.

The buckets and containers you will find from this source will most likely not be food-grade safe.


Factories do everything on a larger scale so the opportunity for more containers and larger containers is great.

Factories that make or process food materials can be a good score for food-grade containers. Some factories use very large plastic totes that can hold 50-100 plus gallons of material.

These large totes make great water containers for rainwater collection, water storage, and other irrigation needs.

Pros and Cons of Free Containers


Free, or at least super cheap!



Can I just wait until a business sets the containers outside or take them out of the dumpster without contacting them?

Unless there is a sign that states you can do so, I would advise against this. If containers are set outside they could be in a designated storage area or possibly left for someone else.

Dumpsters or other trash receptacles are usually still on private property and digging through these without permission is ill-advised.

Doing either of these without permission could be illegal and will create a bad relationship between you and the business. Always ask first!

Why are food-grade containers different than other containers?

Containers that are food good are made from materials that are safe for food to be in contact with.

Non-food grade containers are made from materials that can absorb, release, or leach harmful properties into the contents of the container.

This is usually not an issue if you are storing something like tools in the bucket, but it can be with food that you will later consume.

Wrap Up

Contacting and using local businesses for finding secondhand containers is great for a couple of reasons.

First, it helps the business reduce waste removal costs.

Second, it helps reduce the impact on local landfills by repurposing items that are still useful.

Lastly and probably the most important to you, it allows you to save money by getting free or super cheap containers.

Thanks for reading and I hope you find some great containers!

Have you ever found gotten free containers in this fashion? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know about your find!

Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021.