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Eco Etiquette: How To Ditch Disposable Food Storage

11/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Any ideas on how to store food without all the cling wrap, foil, and disposable plastic bags and containers and keep it reasonably fresh?

-Karina

Before I devised my current eco-friendly system of food storage, I drove my husband bananas with my crazy workarounds. Plastic wrap -- nearly impossible to recycle and a possible source of chemical plasticizers like potential endocrine disruptor DEHA -- was ditched in favor of unbleached wax paper folded neatly around leftovers. The flimsy reusable plastic containers I once bought from the local supermarket had to be tossed in the recycling bin too often (broken lids, lingering onion smell) to be truly green, so I made makeshift containers by placing our good Williams-Sonoma Brasserie plates on top of cereal bowls (which promptly resulted in the breaking of those bowls). And the ultimate in eco-tacky: I refused to buy more plastic chip clips until I could find a suitable green replacement, so I used rubber bands we had lying around the house to close up opened bags of food.

Creative? Yes. Insane? Also yes. But you don't have to be. There are plenty of wonderful alternatives out there for greenies concerned about sending Ziplocs to our landfills and/or the potential health hazards of plastics. A few tips:

The glass is always greener.
Nothing beats glass for eco-friendly food storage at home. It's nontoxic, recyclable, and will last for years to come, as long as you don't have a case of the old butter fingers. The only downside? Glass-lidded containers, like the elegantly sustainable pieces made by 104-year-old U.S. glassware manufacturer Anchor Hocking, are a bit of an investment. More reasonable ones with plastic lids can be found nearly everywhere, from Target to Ikea. Another fun bargain alternative is to look for vintage Pyrex storage: Great finds can be had on eBay (Hint: Search for "refrigerator dishes") or at your local thrift store/flea market.

You can be foiled again.
You're right to be wary of aluminum foil; for years, the shiny stuff had been banned from our household, since extracting aluminum is about as environmentally destructive a process as it gets. According to Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, for each ton of aluminum produced, a ton of caustic chemicals is left after the ore is extracted, which pollutes surface and underground water supplies. And, says Brown, the energy costs are enormous: The worldwide aluminum industry uses as much electric power as all of Africa. But when I stumbled across a box of Reynolds Wrap 100 percent recycled foil at the market earlier this year, at a fairly affordable $2.99 for 35 square feet, I have to admit I was pretty thrilled. Though it can be recycled again, I still use it sparingly -- I'm certainly not lining my baking sheets with it merely to avoid scrubbing a pan, unlike some Food Network stars who shall remain nameless.

Plastic with a good rap.
For those concerned about the breakability and weight of glass, I'm a big fan of Preserve's products, which are made entirely from recycled No. 5 (polypropylene) plastics like yogurt cups. The storage containers are dishwasher safe, recyclable, and free of the now much maligned BPA. While some may argue that there's nothing positive about plastic, I don't think recycled polypropylene should be ruled out entirely. Since it's made from materials that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill, putting them to good (re)use is a better option than taking up dwindling landfill space, where these products would take thousands of years to degrade. To date, Preserve has used nearly 100 tons of recycled plastic for its products.

About that chip clip...
Alright, so I decided that there are much more pressing environmental issues than the tiny piece of plastic used to secure one's Pirate's Booty. But if you're insistent on going all the way in your green storage efforts, take a look at this nifty guide on how to recycle the clamp on a plastic clothes hanger into your very own sustainable snack food fastener.

Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

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