Zero Waste Q&A: Fresh Food Storage

Q: Do you have suggestions other than lilypads to replace plastic wrap with?

A: Although I find lilypad lids useful for things like covering open bowls of unfinished salad or popping a pot full of beans in the fridge (they don’t fit with the lid on), food storage is something that has been a struggle for me because plastic bags are something that I mindlessly consumed for 22 years of my life. I had no trouble tossing an open cheese wedge in a ziplock bag or tearing off a big sheet of aluminum foil to wrap up my pizza leftovers, and I had never seen any alternatives.

When I first started zero waste, I still had a roll of plastic wrap and tin foil in my cupboard (if it was landfill-bound, I figured I should use it first). I even continued to use plastic bags for purchasing produce because I found that the mesh bags that I had did not keep my cilantro from wilting or my carrots from getting rubbery.

A solid cloth bag (for things like grains) and a mesh bag (for produce, so cashiers can see what it is).

A solid cloth bag (for things like grains) and a mesh bag (for produce, so cashiers can see what it is).

At some point it finally occurred to me to research fresh food storage, and I found a wealth of information. Not sure how to store something without being wasteful? Google it. This is particularly an excellent resource for those of us who are new to buying more fruits & veggies than processed foods. When you strategically purchase food to avoid waste, you find that you end up with a lot of food that isn’t full of preservatives – good for you, but somewhat foreign and confusing to store. I have some suggestions below, but I am certainly not an authority on this, so you may need to turn to other resources (seriously, google taught me all I know).

What not to do: Don't allow parts of your carrots to be uncovered by the water. They will get rubbery; I should have used a quart mason jar to ensure better freshness.

What not to do: Don’t allow parts of your carrots to be uncovered by the water. They will get rubbery; I should have used a quart mason jar to ensure better freshness.

Here are some suggestions to keep your stored food fresh and out of the compost:

  • Invest in some mesh produce bags and avoid plastic bags at the store; transfer your produce to a humidity-controlled drawer or research other ways to store it (see below)
  • Cut the green tops off of bundles of fresh carrots (compost the tops or use them to make stock) and store the carrots in the fridge in a quart mason jar filled with water – they will stay delicious and crisp far longer than the mini-carrots that you can buy in plastic bags
  • Chop vegetables such as bell peppers and cucumbers as soon as possible to keep them from wrinkling and keep them in a sealed mason jar or tupperware container
  • Place herbs in a pint mason jar in the fridge with their stems in an inch or two of water – much like you would preserve cut flowers
  • Use a soaked & wrung out kitchen towel to wrap lettuce or other refrigerated goods that must be kept moist (particularly good if you don’t have a humidity-controlled drawer in your fridge, although you may have to re-wet the towel periodically)
  • Cut leftover pizza into smaller pieces and store them in tupperware
  • Keep cheese in a sealed jar OR invest in some Abeego (something I would consider more strongly if I had access to non-plastic-wrapped cheese)
  • IF you are unwilling to transition to zero waste storage, wash and reuse your plastic bags as many times as is feasible
Two-week old cilantro in a jar

Two-week old cilantro in a jar, still happy as can be.

Most importantly, make a pact with yourself to avoid unnecessary waste. Keep your mesh bags with your reusable grocery bags (one of my canvas ones has a handy pouch where I tuck all of mine) so that you aren’t tempted by plastic bags at the store. If you forget them, consider going without. Most of the time, even when I have my mesh bags, I get by with putting veggies directly from my cart onto the conveyor belt and then washing them carefully when I get home. When you use up your disposable food storage, don’t let yourself buy more and see what creative ways you can find to store your food.

If you have any other creative zero waste ways to store your food, please share in the comments below!

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