Monday, February 14, 2011

Bye Bye Plastic Food Storage Containers and Bags

Every time I turn around, there is more bad news about plastic. I could go on a big rant about plastic, but I won’t. Instead, I want to talk about plastic and its relationship with my food. First it was Bisphenol A (BPA) in my plastic drinking bottles. Then it was BPA in canned food (it is used in the lining of cans) especially for acidic foods like tomatoes. So we cleaned out our water bottle collection a few years ago (replacing them with metal water bottles) and stopped buying canned food this past year. We really didn’t buy all that much canned food, mostly beans and canned tomatoes. Last summer as the local farmer’s market was coming to an end, we bought a 25 lb box of Roma tomatoes and diced them up then froze them. We also started cooking our beans from scratch.

This was a good start, but we still had a bunch of plastic food storage containers that we used for lunches. Even though I tried my best not to heat food in them via the microwave, it occasionally happened especially at work. My second confession is our somewhat frequent use of plastic bags. We mostly used larger bags for freezing vegetables. The small snack bags made it easy to pack items for school lunches. I have to admit that while I know how bad they are for the environment, they can be pretty darn convenient at times. So I rationalized my behavior by using them sparingly and reusing when possible. That was until last month when I discovered from a blog that I follow (My Plastic-free Life) that animal fat is what makes the bags nice and slippery. I have no idea how I did not know this little fact after all of these years of not eating meat!

In my fit of disgust, I made several changes on the food storage front to complete our transformation:

  • I replaced the plastic drink pitcher and all of the plastic food storage containers with glass versions from the Container Store. This was an easy fix.
  • I replaced Lily and Semira’s insulated lunch bags (in to which went plastic bags and storage containers) with very cool metal bento boxes from Planet Box. I had to find something with built in containers to replace the plastic ones. The kids love the new lunch boxes because they could customize the plain metal with different magnets. Lunch has become much more exciting because there are small bites of more different foods. Both kids are eating more (especially the healthy things).
The outside of the boxes with the set of magnets each kid picked.

The inside of the boxes. Each comes with two round containers (sidekicks) to hold liquids.
  • I replaced my insulated, dog chewed lunch box with a metal tiffin (from To-Go Ware) identical to the one Steve bought a couple of years ago. I admit it, I made fun of Steve when he bought his tiffin. I did, however, make sure mine is a bit fancier. It has a nice bag and a set of bamboo utensils to go with it. I plan on keeping a plate at work to heat the contents in the microwave since the metal won’t work. This is the downside of the metal vs. glass option.
My lunch set comes with two big round containers that snap together as well as a sidekick to hold liquids.
  • I will continue to eat the food in the freezer that is in plastic bags as long as I defrost the bags so they do not need to be microwaved. After that, all food in the freezer will be stored in glass jars. We already do this for about half of our food so I know it works. I will just need to buy more jars this summer.

After the discovery of the animal fat in the plastic bags, I decided to explore a few of the plastic bag manufacturer’s web sites to see what they had to say. What I found is such a great example of irony. The most well-known plastic bag manufacturer takes great pride in telling you their products are BPA free. Very safe! Then they have an entire section of their web site (under the heading of” Sustainability”) exposing how environmental they are including how to divert the bags from the landfill by recycling them, how some of their products are made with wind energy, and how the boxes that hold the bags are made from recycled cardboard. Really, there is no way to make using plastic sustainable! I don’t care if they are made with wind energy or whether you can recycle the box they came in. The reality is millions of these bags sit in landfills. They do not decompose EVER. And recycling is so limited because most municipalities do not take bags. And I have yet to see any of these special recycling drop-offs for food storage bags. Do these companies really think that people will fall for this? What a great example of trying to sustain the unsustainable! Oh yeah, I never did find that complete list of chemicals and other ingredients that my food has been touching all these years. Somehow I am not surprised!

I can't say that I am solving the world's plastic problems with these minor changes. If you want some inspiration on that front, check out Beth Terry's blog at She is amazing! On the other hand, I have definitely become more aware of the vast amounts of plastics all around us. This awareness has certainly led to more thoughtful personal decisions as to whether to buy a particular product or not. I just wish I didn't have to try so hard to find plastic-free alternatives for many of the products I like to use. Some days I have the energy to go the extra mile; other days I don't. I guess this makes me human.

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