Plastic wrap, plastic storage containers and plastic baggies of every shape and size line the shelves in our grocery stores – in some cases, plastic food storage can take up half an aisle! I swear, plastic food containers are a scourge to our society. If I weren’t so tired from my funfull days, I might even be kept up at night knowing that the makers of the most popular brand of plastic wrap and plastic food storage containers were once my clients in my life working in advertising.
Plastics have invaded our lives to the extent that we feel we can’t survive without them – but the risks to our plastic consumption far outweigh the benefit of convenience. Plastics threaten our endocrine systems and hormonal health, the environment, our oceans and marine life.
According to this NPR article, Americans recycle at the lamentable rate of 34.5% and recycle plastic packaging at the even measlier rate of 14%. So the majority of that food packaging is ending up in landfills, or on the street as litter, where it may eventually get swept into the ocean. There, our wrappers and cans and cups become a much bigger problem — microplastics, a direct threat to marine life that may ingest it and die.
Whether we recycle it or not, once a piece of plastic is created, it is with us forever. Every piece of plastic ever created on this planet since plastic started being created still remains in one form or another. According to Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2004 report, “an estimated four to five trillion plastic bags—including large trash bags, thick shopping bags, and thin grocery bags—were produced globally in 2002.
Roughly 80 percent of those bags were used in North America and Western Europe. Every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which can clog drains, crowd landfills, and leave an unsightly blot on the landscape. About a thousand miles west of San Francisco is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also called the Pacific Trash Vortex), a heaping floating mass of plastic debris twice the size of Texas.
In addition to the environmental impact, plastics also pose a threat to our health.
All plastics are marked with an identification coding system. This is the number surrounded by arrows usually on the bottom.
BPA-Free Isn’t The Answer
Get to know the number 7 (polycarbonate) really well. These are the plastics that tend to be very hard and clear, almost tricking us into thinking they’re solid, stable and glass-like. These often have BPA in them and include things like food-storage containers, water bottles and plastic tableware. You’ll also find this stuff in the lining of tin cans including canned fruits and vegetables, soda, beans and lentils. The more acidic the food in the can, such as tomatoes, the more leaching that happens.
There was big noise made about five years ago as parents discovered that BPA, a hormone disrupting chemical found in soothers, baby bottles and toys was – well – present in soothers, baby bottles and toys. This was largely removed from these items.
Here’s the issue though: the chemical being used to replace BPA in plastic might actually be worse. A groundbreaking new study has linked the BPA alternative to disruption in brain activity, causing hyperactivity.
The problem, as outlined by the study, is that “A lot of the alternative chemicals have not been adequately tested because they don’t have to be,” said lead author Deborah Kurrasch. “A compound is considered safe (by the Food and Drug Administration) until proven otherwise.” The American Chemistry Council of course is questioning the validity of the study. They also spent millions trying to dispute the BPA legislation, proclaiming it safe, until they lost and then changed their tune on that one too.
Better Than Plastic: how to store food without plastic
We can do better than plastic. Much better.
Fortunately, there are a ton of ways we can store food without plastic. This costs less in the long run, keeps food a little more free of a little more chemicals, keeps less waste in the landfills, rivers, lakes and oceans and of course, is much more beautiful! Here are some of my favourite environmentally-friendly, health-supportive food storage methods.
1. Mason Jars
These reusable storage jars come in a wide variety of sizes and are inexpensive to buy at your local hardware store. If you want to save some cash, you can also thoroughly clean and reuse glass jars from food you’ve purchased.
Mason jars are great way to store food without plastic. They’re great for storing anything and everything – soups, broths, salad dressings, grains and flours, smoothies and juices, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, herbal tinctures. They’re also a good choice for storing chopped veggies you’ve prepped in advance for the week. If you’re on the go, packing your meals in mason jars is certainly heavier than plastic containers or baggies, but think of it as your weight-bearing exercise for the day.
2. Glass Food Storage Containers
If the shape of mason jars doesn’t suit your eating style, take your lunch in glass food storage containers instead. I love the Wean Green containers pictured above. These are typically appropriate for items like salads, sandwiches, burgers, wraps, roasted veggies, cooked grains, and other meals that are easier to grab and eat straight from the container. They’re also a good choice if you’re packing your child’s lunch, as many of these containers have brightly coloured snap-on lids that are easy for kids to remove. They are also made of tempered glass, which renders them shatter proof and also dishwasher safe for easy clean-up. Of course, you can also use glass food containers for storing your leftovers or any other odds and sods!
3. Beeswax Wraps
This is my favourite alternative to plastic wrap. Reusable wraps made of beeswax like these from Abeego are an incredibly versatile tool for storing and transporting food. Similar to plastic wrap, you can use beeswax wraps to cover foods like half-cut onions and avocados (or any other fruit or veg), tent them over bowls for storage, or make pockets with them to carry snacks, sandwiches and baked goods. Beeswax wraps are very mold-able, so you can just warm them with your hands to help them adhere around a bowl or your food.
These are a great option to store food without plastic for people who like to use plastic wrap or aluminum foil to take food on the go. It’s just as easy to wrap your food in beeswax, and you receive the same lightweight benefits. Then all you need to do is wash them and they are ready to use again.
4. Stainless Steel Containers
Stainless steel food containers are another lightweight, eco-friendly alternative for storing food. You can purchase them in many different sizes, and there are also leak-proof, insulated and bento box-style options. Stainless steel is practical and durable, especially if you are concerned about glass containers breaking. It can take a lot of wear and tear! Just ensure you buy 100% food grade stainless steel containers, not aluminum.
5. Reusable Snack and Sandwich Bags
If you want the flexibility of plastic baggies without using plastic, opt for reusable snack and sandwich bags. These are another great lunch box option, as they can be used for dry items like baked goods and trail mix as well as fresh fruits and veggies. Choose brands that offer organic, non-toxic fabrics – and it’s an extra bonus if they’re machine washable.
- Shop: Life Without Plastic
- Learn: PlasticSucks.com
- Learn: How to Stop Using Aluminum Foil, Plastic Wrap and Other Kitchen Disposables
- Learn: Plastic Packaging and the Inconvenient Truths of Recycling
- Learn: When Sequins and Glitter Lose Their Sparkle: Unexpected Sources of Microplastics
- Plastic Containers: More than anyone wants to know about them
(Featured photo: Copyright: Gudella)