Although the Marie-Kondo method of tidying and storing stuff has swept the nation, one area that doesn’t spark joy for me is how my food is stored.
Cutting down on food waste by keeping leftovers fresh for longer is something we all aim for, but what your food is actually stored in can make all the difference to how effective this actually is.
I love cooking and prioritise buying good organic food for its flavoursome vitality, and a veg box delivery means plastic is kept to a minimum in my weekly shop. By always making extra I can also ensure there’s a healthy lunch option, a quick dinner the next day, or something in the freezer for days I am too rushed to cook from scratch.
This sounds all very organised, but the sad reality is my lovely leftovers languish in a selection of battered, old plastic ice-cream tubs. Some of them are a bit scratched inside, and while I originally thought I was doing a good thing by reusing them, any disruptions on the surface like scratching or melting could increase the chances that it will leach plastic chemicals into food if used for storage.
My eco-friendly solution was originally a plate on top of a bowl, but they easily slide off and after a few of my most favourite plates got broken I realised more research was required.
So, what are the alternatives? I checked out lots of things from unbleached waxed paper, crocheted bowl covers and sustainable bamboo – here are my top four solutions:
Fully and easily recyclable, glass is far less permeable than plastic, meaning it won’t absorb tastes, odours or germs, and won’t leak chemicals into your food.
Almost all glass containers are manufactured using some recycled material as this is much cheaper to produce. The raw materials – sand and minerals – are naturally abundant, and glass can be recycled almost endlessly without any loss of quality, making it more environmentally friendly. Glass produced from recycled scrap also creates 20 per cent less air pollution and 50 per cent less water pollution.
Kilner Jars are my favourite option – widely available, very sturdy, airtight and leakproof. I had a few of these already shoved at the back of a cupboard, and after a good clean realised they can be used for many more things than just storing dried pulses.
Medium sized jars fit well in the fridge, and are wonderful for holding soups, stews or bircher muesli. Perfect for fermenting, they can be used to make and then store your own sauerkraut, like this Red Cabbage Sauerkraut recipe.
At home or to go, this is a great way of storing food. Food-grade stainless steel is lightweight, durable and with good care, will last for life. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes – there is a good selection here at A Slice of Green. Some are like Tiffin tins, the stackable steel containers widely used in India for lunch. Extra compartments are great for snacks - hopefully helping to prevent any mid-afternoon sugar binges if something nice and healthy is tucked away in there alongside lunch! Easy to wash and clean (never use a steel brush or pan scourer), the only downside is that they can be a little leaky round the lids, so not as good for throwing in your bag when transporting stews or soups from fridge to work.
A beautiful example of new use for a traditional material, beeswax wraps have lots of uses from storing bread, wrapping cheese to folding in a myriad of ways as pouches to pop your sandwiches in.
If you just need to cover up food without transferring it to a storage container, they are a great green alternative to cling film and aluminium foil. Beeswax breathable wraps are perfect for storing pretty much any other room temperature or cold foods, except meat or fish, and easily mould around the tops of bowls. Most importantly, they last for up to a year and can be washed just with warm water and a dash of eco washing up liquid. At the end of their use, they can simply be composted or used as firelighters. I like the look of BeeBee wraps and The Beeswax Wrap Co as theirs are made from organic cotton infused with beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and pine tree resin.
If you fancy a spot of DIY, there are some great online resources for how to make wraps yourself, such as at myhealthygreenfamily. The No Plastic Shop and The Wise House also stock vegan food wraps or you can also have a go at crafting your own with this DIY recipe for a Beeless Vegan Food Wrap (made with carnauba wax instead).
Super-convenient silicone is everywhere, from freezable bags to suction lids that go on your bowls. It can even be microwaved or cleaned in the dishwasher, which is great if you are in a rush.
Made from the silica mineral, which is found in sand, it can withstand extremes in temperatures from very cold to oven hot - without melting, and unlike plastic it resists deterioration. If silicone storage does get stained, you can simply make a baking soda paste with vinegar or water, apply and leave for at least 30 mins then rinse and wash as normal.
At its simplest, cheesecloth or muslin (you can get unbleached organic by the metre) can be used to wrap and store foods that need a little ventilation. Cloth squares to cover a plate or a bowl works great for short-term food storage and keeps salad cooler and less soggy than using clingfilm.
Organic cotton produce bags are a breathable, recyclable alternative to plastic and are great for helping veg stay fresher for longer, cutting down on food waste.
A cheap DIY fix is to use bowls you already have with fabric bowl covers for simple food storage. This isn’t great for anything aromatic, but berries, mushrooms or salad will love it.