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Zero Waste Food Storage {Reusable Containers}

These Zero Waste Food Storage ideas are items that can help reduce your family’s plastic use and trash output. Learn about well-loved products that can keep your food fresh without breaking the bank. Check out our favorite glass, stainless steel, cloth, and BPA-free kid-safe products.

reusable containers, water bottles, and other zero waste food storage ideas in a collage

If you’re here to see gorgeous photos of perfectly matched glass jars with chalkboard paint labels, you’re about to be seriously disappointed!

We’re talking about zero waste food storage, but storage for busy people and families with budgets. And kids are the destroyer of things, so I have even included some BPA-free kid-safe products.

If you get nothing else from this post, please understand that transitioning to more eco-friendly kitchen items should be a marathon and not a sprint. Even if you’re gung-ho about making changes, there is no need to rush out and get allllllll the things!

If you have a current stash of plastic ziploc bags that you’re looking to phase out, keep them for items that are harder to store in reusable containers (like meat).

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for everyone when it comes to zero waste food storage. You can prioritize the environment and the actual life your family lives. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

When it comes to reusable containers, the price is always going to be higher than their single-use counterparts. The lunchbox my oldest kiddo has used for five years is $32. That price can give you sticker shock until you realize how many plastic and paper bags we have avoided using in that same period of time.

Look at reusable containers as long-term investments and invest in quality where your budget allows.

How to Transition to Zero Waste Food Storage

If possible, I would prioritize adding the following items to your home:

  • Cloth grocery bags
  • Glass food storage
  • Reusable water bottle(s) and straws
  • Reusable ziploc-style bags

There is no point in throwing out or donating items in your kitchen that are still working for you. Instead, have a game-plan and an idea for how you will replace them when they are at the end of their lives. 

I’m a huge fan of buying kitchen items secondhand whenever possible. Not only are you keeping items from the landfill, but you’re also likely going to get an amazing deal!

Thrift stores, garage sales, ebay, and local buy and sell platforms are amazing ways to score zero waste food storage at a fraction of the retail price. 

As we talk about our favorite items below, think if they would work for your kitchen and lives. And if they will, keep an eye out for them the next time you hit up your local thrift store.

OG Zero Waste Food Storage – Canning Jars

The uses for canning jars are endless! We use them for storing soups, cooked beans, leftovers, homemade sauces, and for basic kitchen organization.

This post on Canning Supplies goes in-depth into all the different styles of canning jars available. But the down and dirty canning jar primer:

multiple kinds of jars on a wooden board showcasing canning supplies

Wraps (Reusable Food Wrap)

My husband had a serious addiction to plastic wrap for years! It took a lot of nagging gentle guidance to get him over using it, but we’ve never looked back!

We currently use different sizes of Beeswrap in place of plastic/cling wrap. These wraps are great for sandwiches, covering the tops of containers (during the long rise time, I use it to cover the bowls of No Knead Bread), and for little snacks.

Three purple beeswrap holding food

These wraps act like plastic wrap in that they can mold around food or containers. The wax in the wraps makes the fabric pliable simply by using the warmth of your hands.

They are reusable for at least a year if cared for correctly. Wash and rinse in warm water and hang to dry. It is not advisable to use reusable wraps for raw meat.

Beeswrap is made from beeswax so they are not vegan-friendly. However, Earth’s Basics sells a similar product that is suitable for vegans.

Another amazing plastic wrap replacement product is these silicone stretch lids from Modfamily. You place them over the openings of jars, bowls, plates, or pots and they create a seal just like plastic wrap. They are also dishwasher and freezer-safe.

Zero Waste Produce and Bulk Bin Bags

How many plastic bags full of lettuce, carrots, apples, and other produce come home with you from the grocery store? Chances are at least a few every shopping trip. 

There is a better way!

We have been using these light-weight mesh produce bags for over five years and they have held very well. They’re washable and work great for fruits, veggies, and larger bulk bin items (dried beans, rice, nuts, etc.).

If you shop in bulk often and don’t want to use reusable bags, you can bring your own containers. Just make sure to weigh the container prior to filling it (this is called the “tare weight”) so that the cashier can remove the price from the purchase.

And if you have (very) basic sewing skills, you can make your own Zero Waste and Bulk Bin Shopping Bags yourself! Just make sure to know the tare weight of the bags so you’re not over-charged at checkout.

two reusable produce bags

Zero Waste Shopping Bags

When it comes to packing up your groceries and bringing them home, do you choose paper or plastic? My vote is for neither!

Using canvas bags or totes means you’re personally responsible for fewer plastic bags in the environment. Did you know that plastic bags never really decompose? They just break down into smaller and smaller pieces until they eventually become an environmental cluster eff.

I prefer these large canvas bags rather than other plastic sided bags, simply because you can toss the canvas bags in the wash. One large canvas bag can replace three to four plastic bag’s worth of groceries! If you can’t lift larger bags or carry heavy loads, choose a smaller option like these bags.

a cloth bag full of groceries

How Do You Store Meat Without Plastic?

Most meat from the store will come wrapped in plastic. If you pick up an order at the grocery store’s butcher counter, ask if they will allow you to bring reusable containers.

If you’re able to buy meat in bulk, or even better, directly from the farmer, you have a few options for storing meat without plastic.

You can have the meat wrapped in butcher paper. If done correctly, you don’t even need to store it in additional containers in the freezer. 

Another option would be to freeze meat in single-serve portions on a baking sheet and then transfer to a reusable container like a silicone zipper-bag.

How to You Store Cheese Without Plastic?

Most cheese does come wrapped in plastic or wax. If you’re able to buy cheese without a wrapper, you can wrap it in Beeswrap. We then store ours in a glass air-tight container.

Best Glass Food Containers

My husband is fully convinced I have a glass storage addiction and I’m not the least bit sorry for it! 

Our favorite glass storage containers are from the Snapware brand. You can buy them online (this is the set we have), but the best price I’ve ever seen is at Costco. The base price is super affordable, and every few months they go on rebate, making them even more economical.

We love this brand because the lids are air-tight. No worries about soup spilling in your lunch bag, or your meal prep onions making your fridge reek.

If you’re like me and think different kinds of food should never touch, you’ll be happy to see these glass containers with dividers. Prayers do get answered, my friend. The various components also make them great for storing meal prep ingredients in one container.

For storage that doesn’t need an air-tight seal, we’re huge fans of these Pyrex containers. Ours are over six years old and have held up very well.

three different types of reusable glass containers

Stainless Steel Food Containers

As much as I love glass containers, they’re heavy and not always convenient to carry. That’s where stainless steel can swoop in and lend a light-weight hand. Stainless is best for cold items as you can’t reheat easily in most of the containers.

Stacked stainless steel storage is also referred to as “tiffins”. You can keep different dishes in one stackable container. I have not seen a leak-proof tiffin before, so these are better for non-liquid items. 

There are also bento-style stainless steel lunch boxes that have dividers in them. Like the stackable option, these are not 100% leakproof but you can purchase some brands like this one with silicone lids.

two stainless steel bento boxes

Reusable Silicone Zipper-Bags

The days of only being able to use plastic zip bags are over! There are some wonderful silicone-style zipper bags on the market today.

I really like these heavy-duty silicone storage bags for freezing (related: Freezing Strawberries Freezing Cherries, and Freezing Peas) because they are air-tight and the bottom flattens out to make them easier to fill.

That being said, they are not kid-friendly at all! There is zero chance my preschooler could open or close these bags and he would lose the closure piece in a hot second.

For kid-friendly zipper bags, I prefer the Stasher brand bags. Stasher bags come in all sizes and can also be great for freezing items, but they really shine in their kid-friendliness.

Stasher can also be used for sous vide, microwaving or reheating food. Think: making a batch of rice, freezing in individual portions, and then reheating it in the microwave in the bag.

Stasher can be purchased on Target, on Amazon, or even via Thrive.

silicone zipper bags

Best Zero Waste Food Storage For Kids

Kids man. Kids are like destructo-bots! And I have boys, so anything that has survived daily use is something I highly recommend.

Both of my boys use YumBoxes for their lunches. We have had this smaller version for five years and recently added this larger one once my (now) ten-year-old got to third grade.

Yumboxes are made of BPA-free plastic and are leakproof. That means you can fill one compartment with applesauce or yogurt and it won’t make your sandwich soggy.

The leakproof lid also means that cut fruit doesn’t brown. You can slice up some apples the night before and have very little oxidation by lunch the next day.

We also have two Lunchbots boxes for the kids that I snagged at Goodwill for $5 for both! These are the perfect size for snacks or light lunches.

As mentioned above, I prefer Stasher silicone bags in place of plastic baggies. This brand is the most kid-friendly I have found.

While I always keep a box of yogurt tubes in our basement freezer for last-minute preschool class parties, I really hate the idea of my kids using these on a daily basis.

We love to freeze homemade Easy Instant Pot Yogurt in these reusable silicone molds for homemade yogurt tubes. The kids love them frozen because they feel like they’re getting dessert. I love them frozen because I hate messes and frozen yogurt almost never spills.

Applesauce pouches are like pure kid crack. We make applesauce every fall (related: Canning Applesauce) and have a reusable pouch just like this one. They’re very easy to clean and are dishwasher safe. Ours is six years old at this point.

These little homemade reusable snack bags are great for small snacks and treats. If you have even basic sewing skills, you can make some of these bags in under 15 minutes.

different kid-safe reusable containers for zero waste food storage

What About Takeout?

Ordering food to go usually means styrofoam, plastic bags, and plastic utensils. Transitioning to reusable products doesn’t mean you can no longer eat out!

We simply take our reusable containers to restaurants we love and give them to the staff when we place the order. We’ve never had a single restaurant refuse to put our food in these containers.

Other diners waiting for their orders have often been surprised you can bring your own containers. Almost everyone I’ve ever talked to about it tells me they’re bringing their own stuff next time.

Some restaurants will give you a small discount, a bit more food for free, or even a little add on item for bringing your own zero waste food storage.

If you’re dining in, still bring some containers. If you’re like me and always want to take half the food home for leftovers, bring a glass or stainless steel container to the restaurant.

Reusable Water Bottles

My husband Troy: “we have too many of these Liberty bottleworks bottles“.

Me: “YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE”!

My waterbottle love runs deep and I won’t apologize for it. I fell in love with Liberty bottles years ago and now all our family members rock different styles and sizes of reusable bottles. 

We love their standard bottles but will all fight over their double-walled insulated bottles. True story: three days ago I filled a bottle with half water and half ice and stuck it in my car. Yesterday afternoon, my husband took a drink from it and said “how is this still cold”? 

Also a true story: I should probably wash my bottles more often.

three kinds of liberty bottleworks reusable water bottles

Reusable Straws

Straws are a must-use in our house for kids, but we choose reusable straws whenever possible. We have a set of these BPA-free plastic straws, but I prefer the stainless steel ones we also have because my youngest kid is a straw biter.

stainless steel straws

Zero Waste Food Storage – Spices

As mentioned above, I love 4 oz mason jars for spices! But sometimes I need something smaller and stackable. 

I eventually ran out of old spice jars to repurpose and ended up investing in these reusable stainless spice containers. They come with labels (makes my Type-A heart happy), are infinitely reusable, and are magnetic if you have that storage option in your kitchen.

stainless steel spice tin for zero waste food storage

When possible, I purchase spices from the bulk section at our local grocery store. For the same amount of dill that would cost $6 in a jar in the spice aisle, I can refill my stainless container for about $.45.

No bulk spice section at your store? I also use Amazon and Thrive for online spice purchases. And I love the Litehouse non-GMO freeze-dried spices that I can get at Costco. They’re super fresh and last forever. Check out their line up of options on their site.

Zero Waste Food Storage, Misc.

I’m not going to tell you I never use parchment paper, because I do! I use the brand If You Care because it is compostable. I reuse it until it is almost shredded, and then I give it to my chickens to scratch apart. They don’t try to eat it, but they do love to play with it.

If you want something reusable, silicone baking mats are perfect for lining baking sheets for roasting, baking, and freezing.

Bonus – Homemade Cleaning Products

Going zero waste in the kitchen is a big step, and cleaning your house shouldn’t cause more trash. That’s why I make me own Eco-Friendly Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner and Homemade Dusting Spray and Furniture Polish.

Well, friends, that is my big ol list of zero waste food storage ideas. I’d love to hear from you now and see what sort of reusable containers your family uses and loves!

 

 

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13 comments on “Zero Waste Food Storage {Reusable Containers}”

  1. My favorite stainless steel straw is by FinalStraw. It has its own case that can clip to a key ring so it’s always close by. I keep it in the diaper bag. It also folds, comes with its own cleaning brush and drying rack! For water bottles, we’ve switched to LifeFactory glass bottles. I’ve been using mine for years, dropped it lots, and it only shattered once…on a slate floor.  I emailed the company and they sent a new bottle for free (I paid shipping)! Now we use LifeFactory baby bottles as well. Another option is Hydaway collapsible water bottles. It’s made of silicone and is only 1” thick when collapsed. Perfect for traveling and on scuba diving boats where glass isn’t allowed. 

    Thanks for the other ideas/brands! Ziploc style bags is next on my list to replace. Going to try the Stasher bags. 

    • I must check out those straws! I’ve been thinking about a travel straw for months now. Anytime we go out to eat they automatically put straws in the kid’s cup. I’d love to have an alternative. Thanks so much for sharing the brand name.

  2. I love these ideas! We started using mesh produce bags a few months ago and I love the difference. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is our lettuce dries out more since it’s not in plastic. Any tips?

    • Yes, I love the mesh!

      What kind of lettuce? I don’t store mine in the bags once I get them home. Perhaps you could prep the lettuce once you get home, dry, and transfer to air-tight storage?

  3. Thanks for putting together this post. Lots of great ideas! I’ve been trying to reduce waste (& plastic!) in the kitchen for years… my makes fun of me for the endless number of glass jars we have, but only about 5 are not currently in use!

    Did you know you can revive the beeswax wraps on a low temperature in the oven? It smoothes out the wrinkles and redistributes the wax. I’m going to experiment with adding a little more beeswax to our oldest ones to see if I can get a little more life out of them.

    My biggest challenge is figuring out how to replace the stackable plastic containers we use on a daily basis. I suspect they last for several years of freezer meals and lunches, but they inevitably break. I think I’m too clumsy for glass in the freezer and often lunches go from the freezer to the microwave, so metal would also be a challenge. Maybe I need to explore the silicone options again…

    Fyi I think you should do a poll on everyone’s best thrift store finds! A good deal on something I know we need is incredibly rewarding!

    • I did NOT know that about the beeswax wraps, so thank you! I haven’t had a need to revive them but I’m totally filing that away in the back of my brain for when it happens.

      I think using those plastic containers until they die is your best bet at this point. What is it that you’re reheating? That might help us pinpoint a likely solution.

      Great idea on the best thrifting finds, but I’d include garage sales to that. Simply because I have a $15 garage sale piece of furniture that we later found out was worth $1000!

      • Wow, that’s quite the garage sale find! I’d consider a garage sale as a thrifty find – even more thrifty because no retail outlet is needed!

        My partner works long days on a 2-week on, 2-week off schedule. So, on the off weeks, we fill the freezer with all the meals he eats on his on days (and most of mine, turns out I don’t like cooking for one anymore). These meals are largely soups, single servings of lasagna, hummus, pasta sauce, and burrito fillings.

        Thanks for not lecturing me on microwaving plastic 🙂 I avoid it at home, but it’s not always avoidable in other situations!

      • I almost peed a little when I found out what it was worth. It was an alert blog reader’s mom who pointed it out because I was going to paint it.

        I love your freezer meals! Can I tell you my favorite lasagna tip ever? Once you bake it, allow it to fully cool in the pan. Then cut it and lay each slice on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Freeze the tray until each piece is frozen solid and then transfer to freezer bags. You can snag one at a time and reheat. If you and your partner have access to a plain microwave safe plate at work that might solve the problem of the glass vs. plastic.

        I’m not down for the whole lecturing thing. We all are doing our best and sometimes the alternatives just don’t work for the scenario.

  4. Love this post! I don’t know if I’ll ever get to zero waste, but I’m cutting it out wherever I can. I clicked on almost everything in the post to add to my wish list, and the produce bags were on a lightning sale. Bought them for a third of the price! Woo hoo! Not quite as good as your Lunchbots find but a very pleasant surprise! 🙂 And I totally have a Goodwill squeal too. My kids hate going with me. hahaha

    • I think zero waste is a good goal but almost unobtainable. But having some aspects of zero waste thinking gets us all closer to a better planet.

      The Goodwill squeal is real and I think it should be our ring tone!

  5. Hmmm….   I tend to think of myself as ‘less waste’ rather than zero waste. I try, but I still rely on food saver bags and cellophane too much. 
    I’m making my own beeswax wraps, but I stalled that project at the moment. 
    As I read this, I realized that I’m doing better than I thought!  I use reusable straws, my own produce bags, cloth shopping bags, silicone bags, glass containers, a refillable water bottle and a travel cup (but I admit, I forget the cup and straws often, when I go out)

    You can make fantastic shopping bags from t-shirts.  Just cut the sleeves and collar off and sew the bottom. Done!  They work great and wash very easily.  I have found that a child’s large, or ladies small are great sizes. Men’s xl is ridiculously big (we use that one for dirty laundry when we camp or travel)

    I think I had more to say, but I’ll quit now because I’m on my phone instead of the computer. 

  6. I haven’t tried the Liberty bottles yet but love our kleen kanteen ones. The older ones had an issue with the paint on the outside coming off so I’ve been able to get several at Goodwill for $3 pr less including an insulated one.