On reusing takeout containers



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Posted by: stak
Tags: life
Posted on: 2022-02-04 21:25:41

Over time we've accumulated a fair number of black plastic takeout containers. The problem is there's a bunch of different sizes, and finding the matching lids can be quite annoying when they're all just stacked in a drawer. Today after much frustration I (with my trusty 3-year-old assistant) finally got around to sorting the containers to match up the lids and discarding all the pieces without matching parts.

The next step to prevent a re-occurence was to label them. Labeling the lids was easy enough with a permanent marker, since the lids are clear. However the containers are black plastic and none of the pens or markers I tried made any easily-visible mark. In the end I used a knife to make notches in the plastic, with the number of notches matching the number on the corresponding lid. This works pretty well; once I have a container I can quickly count the notches and find the matching lid.

I only wish I had thought to stack the containers by size before numbering them. As-is, lookup is O(n); I could have made it O(log n) using binary search if the lids were stacked in numerical order. If I stack numerically now, they don't stack well because larger ones get put inside smaller ones. But the constant factor is much smaller than it used to be, and that's the real win here. Adding a new container is now O(n) (vs O(1) previously) as I have to compare it to previous containers to determine which number it needs to get, but that should be a relatively infrequent operation.

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