How the pandemic created a mason jar shortage

Last time, we experienced a coin shortage and the time before that, toilet paper deprivation. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic follows our shift in seasons, we see a new shortage trending: Mason jars. Specifically, the lids for the jars.

CNN covered the story on October 7, reporting that due to the increased amount of time, people have taken up canning as a hobby. "Our sales basically went up 600 percent [in the middle of August] and haven't dropped since," remarked Marie Bregg, the owner of Mason Jar Merchant, a proprietor of kitschy Mason jars. However, while the jars can be used repeatedly without issue, the screw-on seals that hold down the lids are intended as a single-use object.

This was a known flaw in the Mason jar's design even before the plague came upon us. In 2017, Country Living laid out a series of mistakes that people new to canning might make. Number 8 of these was "Reusing lids for food purposes." The reason is, as Ball brand Home Canning Products canning expert Jessica Piper explained, that "After the first use, the plastisol seal is spent and will not recover enough for reuse when processing."

So, returning to the shortage, our free time has resulted in many people either taking up gardening or expanding their local gardening venture. This means, however, that there is more food for these amateurs to deal with, so they can the surplus produce, which means that they use lots of lids.

Can the Mason jar

The early reporting of the shortage, such as NPR's piece in September, emphasized the irony of the fact that a hobby taken up to gain a feeling of self-sufficiency resulted in people desperately looking for materials. However, it is still possible to can food during the coronavirus. People in the United States have arguably turned to Mason jars for two reasons. Firstly, they, as LIfe Hacker presents, have a strong online aesthetic. Secondly, they have been, as Thrillist notes, a popular tool in the United States for over a century.

An alternative to Mason jars and their variants exists though: Weck jars. As explained by Healthy Canning, Weck jars are typically used in Europe. The difference with Weck jars is that they are sealed with a rubber gasket that is clasped shut with a metal wire. This means that they can be reused more effectively than the Mason jar lid, which is not at all. The prices you can get them on the Weck company's website may be on the slightly pricier side, but in the long run, you will save money on the lids. And if that still doesn't convince you, try a cheaper knockoff first for the sake of comparison. But if you insist on canning during the pandemic, the long run may be a veritable marathon indeed.

As for any lidless Mason jars lying about, CBS Sacramento has 12 alternative uses you could try.