We spend a lot of time in the kitchen, probably even more so during the pandemic (it’s called baking therapy), so it’s no surprise that it's the room in our home where we produce the most waste. But with so many plasticy products filling our pantries and drawers, from dish sponges to sandwich baggies and disposable cutlery, it can be hard to know where to start. There’s really no wrong way to begin reducing waste in the kitchen, but if you’re looking to jumpstart your zero waste kitchen makeover, I recommend focusing on food storage.
Whether you’re stowing pantry staples or leftovers, preserving half an avocado or trying to extend the life of your leafy greens, having a set of plastic-free containers will not only help curb waste, they’re more durable and aesthetically pleasing. It also provides the foundation you’ll need to support plastic-free grocery shopping—all those dried beans, nuts and spices you purchased from the bulk aisle need a place to go when you get home. Last but not least, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your food isn’t coming into contact with harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in plastic (no, thank you).
So without further ado, here are some of our favorites.
1. Le Parfait
These classic French Jars are perfect for storing everything from pantry staples to sauces and soups. They’re crystal clear so you know at a glance how much flour—or beans or pasta—you have left and airtight (with their iconic orange rubber seal) to prevent pests and spoiling. The rounded jars come in a range of sizes, but I personally love the 0.5 L for storing salt, peppercorns and baking soda, 1 L for stocks, sauces and 2 L for bulk flour, masa, beans and rice.
Another favorite for storing pantry staples is Bormioli Rocco jars made in Italy. I love that the angular shape makes it easy to align jars and save space. Like Le Parafit, the jars are airtight with a rubber seal to lock out pests and moisture. I use the 0.5 L and 2 L sizes the most, but there are a range of options to choose from. I also love their glass storage containers which have a plastic lid (I’m okay with it because it rarely touches the food), but they also just released a version with a bamboo lid!
These traditional German canning jars come in a range of shapes and sizes and are embossed with their strawberry logo. The jars feature a glass lid and orange rubber gasket secured with metal clips. Weck jars are beautiful and multifunctional—they can be used to store and serve condiments and snacks or repurposed as a vase or candle holder. I personally love the cylinder option for storing green onions, asparagus and flowers. And, if you find the separate gasket, lid and clips too cumbersome, you can replace them with a custom wood top.
Photo credit: A Beautiful Mess
4. Vintage Pyrex
Perhaps one of the most sustainable options for storing food is purchasing your containers second hand. In that area, it's hard to beat vintage Pyrex which come in a variety of retro colors and patterns and are made entirely of glass. They are known for their durability and can also go in the oven, freezer and be used to serve food. Look for vintage Pyrex on Etsy or at your local thrift store (or Grandma's kitchen drawers).
To extend the life of your produce, without plastic grocery bags, consider trying a reusable produce storage bag. The bag is made from a pillowy cotton fabric that allows produce to breathe while wicking away excess moisture so it stays fresh and crisp for weeks. It works great for delicate greens like lettuce, spinach and herbs which tend to get limp and slimy after a week of refrigeration, but also carrots, celery and other loose items.
6. Beeswax or Vegan Food Wraps
To preserve half a melon or avocado, cover a bowl of leftovers or store cheese, try plastic-free food wraps made from cotton cloth coated in natural beeswax or vegan candelilla wax. The warmth from your hands molds the wrap around the item for a snug fit to keep it fresh. The wraps are a great replacement for plastic cling wrap, but they can be reused again and again and composted at the end of life (most last for a year or two with proper care).
For sandwiches, snacks and half-used produce, silicone sandwich bags are the perfect replacement for the disposable version. The sleek bags are made from food-grade silicone and feature a sturdy pinch-and-press seal. They can go in the freezer, microwave, dishwasher and in boiling water for cooking with a sous vide. You can even write on them with a chalk marker to label what’s inside, note the expiration date or write a sweet note for a loved one.
If you’re looking for something lighter than glass, that’s easy to transport for dining on the go, stainless steel containers are the perfect option. I love the flat round shape of this container made by Onyx which features a divider that can be used to separate sides or snacks or removed to pack one big meal. I also love their large stainless steel container for meal prep or storing large amounts of leftovers.
For an affordable and beautiful set of storage containers, I love these IKEA glass containers with a bamboo lid. They come in a rectangular or round shape and are easy to stack to save space in your fridge or pantry. My one concern would be how durable the bamboo lids are, as wood can get warped and mildewy with prolonged exposure to water. I’d love to hear in a comment below if you have these at home!