Leftovers never looked so good! Say goodbye to old, warped Tupperware, ill-fitting lids, and flimsy plastic sandwich bags with these sleek zero-waste food storage options.
I get quite a few questions about food storage in the fridge, freezer, or even on the go. Not using things like plastic wrap, aluminum foil, plastic zip bags, and plastic food storage containers can be hard to grasp at first. You and I both probably grew up seeing these disposable items every day without much thought. It wasn’t until I decided that I wanted to eliminate unnecessary exposure to toxins in my family’s life, that I even gave plastic wrap and Ziploc bags a second thought.
In those days, I was just starting to realize the impact that plastic has on us, and our planet. See my Beginner’s Guide to Zero-Waste.
22 facts about plastic pollution from EcoWatch:
- In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments—like grocery bags, straws, and soda bottles—are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.
- Over the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
- 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.
- Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
- We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.
- The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
- Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate.
- The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production (bioplastics are not a good solution as they require food source crops).
- Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year (source: Brita)
- Plastic in the ocean breaks down into such small segments that pieces of plastic from a one-liter bottle could end up on every mile of beach throughout the world.
- Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
- 46 percent of plastics float (EPA 2006) and it can drift for years before eventually concentrating in the ocean gyres.
- It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade… Or so we think. No one has seen it yet….
- Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. 80 percent of pollution enters the ocean from the land.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California and is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one.
- Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.
- One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals have been killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
- 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.
- In samples collected in Lake Erie, 85 percent of the plastic particles were smaller than two-tenths of an inch, and much of that was microscopic. Researchers found 1,500 and 1.7 million of these particles per square mile.
- Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).
- Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).
- Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
If that isn’t enough to encourage you to make the switch, another great bonus of using plastic free food storage is that it cuts down on dishes in the sink. Yes, seriously it does. Most glass or silicon containers can be put directly in an oven to reheat which minimizes dishes in the sink. And, if you still feel the need to have a microwave in your life, as long as you aren’t tossing stainless steel in that gadget, most glass and silicon should be microwave safe (but it’s best to double check).
So, what are my favorite solutions for zero-waste and mostly plastic-free food storage?
Refrigerator Food Storage
Stainless Steel is the bomb-diggity of plastic-free food storage. It doesn’t break, is super durable, dishwasher safe, can be thrown in your bag, or even used in lunchboxes at school. Did I mention they are light weight? Just about the only thing that you can’t do is microwave it. I like to use these swing top food canisters at home or for take-a-ways at restaurants. I have found many of these at thrift stores but if you aren’t having much luck, try this Canister Set.
Mason Jars are the zero-waster’s holy grail. Quart and half-gallon size jars are the most versatile as they are great for storing things like soups, sauces, broth, and even leftover casseroles and sides. I also love half quart size because they fit into most cup holders and can be used as a to go cup. I also use these often for leftovers at a restaurant since chances are that I always have a mason jar with me.
I love Pyrex and I have actually found all of my pieces at thrift stores. These do have plastic lids but I try to keep the food from touching that part if possible. If you can’t find these second hand, check them out here.
And if you are into silicon food storage….
Silicon has many benefits like holding up to high temperatures, it is oven safe, easy to clean, durable, and can be found as collapsible containers making it less of a headache when not in use. I’ve found these to be a great find.
I also recently discovered thse silicon suction lids that turn bowls you already have into fridge storage. Find them here.
It’s easy to ditch the plastic wrap and foil with reusable wax food wraps. I like these from Bee’s Wraps instead. If you are into DIY you can make your own. Wax and natural parchment paper will work fine too.
Of course, most days you will find half cut fruits and veggies hanging out naked in the fridge. And quite possibly, an upside down plate on top of another dish. Let’s get real people we really don’t need anything too fancy.
Freezer Food Storage
Always remember that liquids need room to expand when they freeze. And that makes glass a little tricky, but not impossible.
Here is what I’ve found to use in the freezer:
- Mason Jars – Allow 1-2 inches of space between the food and the lid. Also, using the shoulder rule with mason jars. That means being sure that your liquid is below the shoulders of the jar.
- Glass Containers with Lids – I haven’t had any problems with these in the freezer as long as I allow room to expand.
- Natural Parchment Paper – Natural Parchment Paper is good enough for the old fashioned butcher and is great for wrapping meats, fish, etc for storage at home.
- Stainless Steel Latch Containers – These are great for freezer storage since they are not breakable and can fit a lot of food.
- Wax Food Wrap – Can be used in the freezer for a short period of time. It’s best to avoid raw meats.
Pantry Food Storage
We buy most of our pantry staples in bulk in reusable cloth bags and transfer to containers. We use any kind of glass jar and a few stainless steel catisters.
On The Go Food Storage
How can you pack a meal without packing the Earth full of plastic? With these nifty finds that are great for work or back-to-school.
Planet Box makes stainless steel lunch boxes in 3 sizes with varying numbers of compartments. You can compare different models here. Warrantied for 5 years. Durable, dishwasher-safe, and easy to pack. Find it here.
This wonderful Devided Rectangle lunch box is wonderful for sandwiches and snacks. It has a plastic devider that can be removed to fit your needs. Find it here.
Another stainless steel creation, this is a 3-in-1 lunch packing system that’s very handy. There are two levels, with kid-friendly stainless steel snaps on the side, and a third small container that can fit inside or be used separately. Food can be reheated in metal containers in a medium-hot oven or over a campstove. (Pot-gripper can be needed). I especially love thatthese come in all compostable packaging. Find it here.
This is the coolest alternative to plastic bags and containers. Stasher bag is made of pure platinum silicone, so it’s safe for people and the planet. dIt is durable, easy to clean, and great for storing and cooking food; one stasher can be used thousands of times. We keep three large bags and a three smaller bags at home. Fing it here.
Reusable Wax Wraps
I mentioned these before under both fridge and freezer storage. But of course, they are great to use on the go. Buy them here.
I shouldn’t forget to mention that a simple cloth napkin can be used to tie up a sandwich or other dry foods and snacks. A mason jar is always handy to have, though understandably a bit on the heavy side.
If you needed an ice pack to keep things cool…
Kid Konserve Ice Pack
These non-toxic gel pack comes inside a moisture-resistant cover made from recycled plastic bottles! Ideal for lunch boxes, keeping baby bottles cold, and handy for boo boos. Pop in the freezer (with cover on), place in your lunch sack, and ice pack will keep lunch cold for hours. Depending on the environment, the cover usually remains moisture free. Find it here.
And, just in case you needed something to cary it all with you…
Wool lunch bag
From the brand Life Without Plastic this insulated lunch bag is made from 100% organic cotton canvas, insulated with wool, and has a removal cotton lining that can be laundered with a metal zipper. Find it here.
Made by the same company that sells the ECOlunchbox, this is a handmade, lined cotton lunch bag that is sturdy, washable, and perfect for stacking lunch containers (or fitting the ECOlunchbox into the bottom). It comes with 3 cloth napkins, and has adjustable straps on the back that allow it to be worn hands-free. Find it here.
Please keep in mind that you don’t need to make all these changes overnight. In fact, it is more sustainable to use the foos storage items that you have until they are no longer of use. Of course, please weigh the risks associated with plastic leaching. If you plan to use yur plastic containers until they can be recyced, here are a food safty tips:
- Stop heating plastic. Do not put it in the microwave. Do not put it in the oven. Do not put it in the dishwasher, even on the top rack. Heat causes plastics to leach more readily. If you must eat food from plastic containers, please hand wash them with warm (not hot) water. Do not serve hot food in them ever. And, if you’re still buying bottled beverages -you’re not, right?, never store them in the hot trunk of a car.
- No fatty foods. Plastic containers are not good for fatty foods either because plastic is lipophilic, which means that it attracts and binds with fats. Have you noticed how hard it is to clean grease from plastic containers? That’s why. So, when considering what foods to store in plastic, think about cold sandwiches, dried fruits, crackers, nuts, etc. Those kinds of foods might be the least likely to encourage leaching.
- Keep away from sunlight. In addition to heat, light also causes plastics to break down, in a process called photodegradation. Keep them in the dark. Far back, in the darkest reaches of your cupboard or pantry, where you’ll forget you even have them and use something else instead.
I hope that this list can help you to easily find zero-waste food storage containers that fit your family’s needs.
I would love to know if you have a favorite item, container, or brand that helps you out with the leftovers. Leave me comment below and tell me your food storage must haves.