A Guide to Plastic-Free Food Storage
Going plastic-free with food storage is a good idea for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s a super-easy way to reduce your personal contribution to the plastic pollution crisis.
It’s also a means of reducing the amount of plastic that finds its way into your body. A study commissioned by the World Wildlife Foundation found that the average person could be ingesting five grams of plastic every week - about the weight of a credit card. Eek.
Long before I had even considered my plastic footprint, I nixed plastic from my kitchen in favor of more inert materials like wood and stainless steel. Instead of storing ingredients and leftovers in plastic Tupperwares, cling-wrap, and single-use Ziplock bags, I found that old tomato sauce jars usually did the trick.
With today’s growing awareness around the plastic pollution crisis, a lot of awesome plastic-free food storage options have entered the market. Here’s a list of the best plastic-free food-storage tools and how to use them.
Tools For Plastic-Free Food Storage
Glass jars are super versatile. They’re excellent for storing soups, jams, sauces, and pasta. But they’re also a good choice for dried food, like nuts and seeds, granola, and dried beans. Collecting glass jars may inspire you to try making your own pickles and lacto-fermented vegetables.
Where to get them: Glass jars are free and abundant. You can repurpose tomato sauce and pickle jars, and chances are that your friends will have some spares. New mason jars are inexpensive, and you can find them in most grocery stores. But the best glass jars are those that you already have.
Beeswax wraps are a reusable alternative to plastic cling-wrap. Most beeswax wraps are made by soaking cotton linen in beeswax and a softening oil like coconut. Thanks to the wax, beeswax wraps are waterproof and can hold their shape. Use them to cover bowls (or jars) of leftovers or wrap them around a sandwich and baked goods. Keep in mind, however, that heat will melt the wax. So it’s best to avoid using the wraps with warm and hot foods.
Where to get them: We recommend that you find locally-made beeswax wraps. They’re pretty easy to make yourself, and chances are that you can buy some off somebody in your neighborhood. Alternatively, support small beeswax-wrap artists on Etsy.
Silicone is a lot like plastic, but much safer for people and the planet. Made from silica, silicone is non-toxic and won’t leach harmful chemicals into your food. It can handle a huge range of temperatures - from the freezer to the microwave - without cracking or melting. Silicone bags can be used over and over.
The only limit to what you can store in a silicone bag is the size of the bag. Use them to microwave leftovers, freeze smoothie ingredients, or just carry snacks around. Because silicone has no open pores, it’s even a good material for storing strong-scented produce like onions and garlic.
Where to get them: You should always be sure to get food-grade silicone bags from a reputable supplier. Some of our favorites include:
- Stasher - Stasher makes silicone bags in a host of different sizes and colors. We especially love Stasher because of their partnership with Terracycle. At the end of your bag’s long life, you can ship it off to Terracycle for recycling.
- Zip Top - This company makes silicone bags, as well as silicone cups, dishes, and breast milk containers. The company uses 100% platinum silicone in all of its products so that they’re safe even for infants.
Cotton Produce / Grain Bags
We use cotton produce bags every week at the farmer’s market for our veggie haul. But these bags also useful as storage for grains, legumes, and other bulk-aisle products.
Where to get them: We have 100% organic cotton produce bags available here. Or, you can make your own out of an old T-Shirt or kitchen rag. Produce bags are a great beginner sewing project, and you don’t even need a sewing machine.
This is just what it sounds like - a hammock for your veggies and fruits. Not only does it save counter space, but it elevates your food to eye level so you remember to eat them. Hammocks allow airflow on all sides of your produce, which can increase shelf life and decrease the likelihood that one bad apple will ruin the rest.
Hammocks are the best storage option for produce that doesn’t need refrigeration. This list includes but is not limited to apples, avocados, oranges, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes.
Where to get them: You can pick up a vegetable hammock on Etsy. Or, find some string and make one yourself. There are plenty of macrame hammock tutorials on YouTube.
How to Store Food Plastic-Free
Bulk / Dry Goods
Sugary and crumbly goods like granola, candied nuts, and seeds are excellent candidates for glass jars. Dried beans and rice can be stored in glass jars, or in cotton produce bags. You should always try to store dried bulk goods in a cool, dry area.
The biggest concern about storing bread without plastic that it will go stale. But in fact, you only really need to cover the cut end, so this is a great use for a beeswax wrap. You can wrap the entire loaf in a large beeswax wrap, or keep the loaf in a simple organic cotton produce bag. If you buy more bread than you can eat in the course of a week, wrap the loaves in beeswax wraps and store them in the freezer.
Fruits and Veggies
First of all, it’s always best to store your fruits and veggies whole. As in, not cut up. Sliced fruits in particular may turn brown when exposed to oxygen, making them not only less fresh and less appetizing but also more prone to rotting.
Fruits and veggies need to breathe. Sturdy whole fruits - like apples and oranges - should be stored on the countertop or in a veggie hammock for maximum airflow and accessibility. Besides, they taste better at room temperature.
Leafy greens do better in the refrigerator, and you can keep those in breathable organic cotton bags. Refrigerated berries can be stored in a bowl, or in whatever container that they come in.
Sliced fruit should be stored in a silicone bag to reduce oxygenation. You can also prepare smoothie ingredients in a silicone bag and toss it in the freezer. Cut fruit - like half an apple - can also be stored face-down on a plate and kept in the refrigerator.
Some veggies - such as asparagus and celery - can be stored on the the countertop in a glass jar of water for up to a week.
Meat should usually be stored in an airtight container, so we recommend using a silicone bag or a glass Pyrex bowl. And unless it’s cured meat, it should be kept in the fridge or the freezer. Always wash your meat storage container in hot, soapy water to avoid cross-contamination and bacteria growth.
Hard cheeses aren’t fussy. Keep them in a beeswax wrap or a produce bag. Soft cheeses, however, are better off in a shallow glass jar. Keep them in the refrigerator.
Looking to go plastic-free? Start in your kitchen. And let us know how it goes!