Since trying to move more towards zero waste in my kitchen, I both store more food and, paradoxically, store less food. I store more because, buying certain things unpackaged, I have to strategise a way to store them where before I would have shoved them in my pantry. But I also think zero waste tends towards less food storage, because I find that food storage waste problems arise mainly when you are preparing large amounts and storing them a long time – things like prepping 10 freezer meals, or portioning 20 baggies of snacks. If you shop weekly and cook frequently, you won’t be storing as much food.
Tupperware and other plastic food containers have been around a long time, and it’s better to use a reusable plastic container than a disposable one. I have some and they get a lot of use. But I wanted to think beyond Tupperware to explore the other options, particularly those that aren’t plastic. Here are some examples of what we use, and what works well for us.
These silicone covers sit over any round dish and form a pretty airtight seal. You can’t tip it over, obviously, but as long as it’s upright it works beautifully. I have a set of 4 in different sizes and they prevent a lot of cling film usage. The largest covers my big mixing bowl, and the smallest fits over a mug or the tiny bowls Edith uses. I use these constantly. They are also oven safe up to a certain temperature, so on occasion I’ve covered a small dish warming in the oven.
Not to insult your intelligence with the obvious, but you can just stack a plate over a bowl or over another plate. Not airtight, but for a couple of days of covering leftovers in the fridge, it’s fine.
An inverted baking sheet fits nicely over my rectangular Pyrex baking dish, both for storing it in the fridge and for baking it, covered. Again, not airtight, but good enough.
For keeping half-used fruits and vegetables, like half an onion or half an avocado, I make sure I slice them cleanly and then slap them cut-side down on a plate in the fridge. Especially if I’m planning to use the remainder soon, it feels easier than using a container with a lid.
For a more traditional storage container, I love the various Pyrex lidded dishes. (Or other brands of tempered glass with lids.) The ones with clip-lock lids work for packing food (no spill), and regular lids are great for storage. And the glass part can go in the oven! I should say that die-hards will criticise the plastic lid, but in my opinion these are a good, convenient compromise between a plastic container and an all-glass one.
If you have liquids to freeze in small amounts, freezing them in ice cube trays (or, I guess, other larger sectioned molds like muffin tins) and then transferring the cubes into a container is a good way to avoid 1) small plastic bags and 2) millions of small other containers.
And finally, the creme de la creme of zero waste containers, the hermetic glass jar. Mine are the Le Parfait brand. I have been trying these out to see how they work for food storage (not just dry goods storage). The pros: they are made of recyclable (and durable) material with no plastic, they’re affordable, they’re beautiful, and the glass part goes in the dishwasher. This particular brand has straight, slightly angled inner sides so you can, for example, freeze soup in them and get it out again without thawing it completely – just thaw it enough to slide out. The cons: you can’t put the rubber ring in the dishwasher (or I haven’t been brave enough to try), the shape isn’t the most space-efficient, and the design limits the size. For certain uses, I think they are the best non-plastic option, but unless you’re hardcore, you probably can’t do quite everything with these!
Oh, and I’ve recently realised that you can store food without covering it. Maybe everyone else does this and I never knew it. But I’ve started putting leftover pizza uncovered on a plate or baking tray in the fridge to reheat the next day, and nothing bad happened. This is where zero waste efforts are helped by general cleanliness and by not storing too much. If your fridge is filthy, smelly, and full of week-old takeout, I wouldn’t want to leave food uncovered in it. But if it’s clean and not smelly, there’s no problem with something being uncovered in there for 24 hours.