Freezing food for later consumption is not where zero waste ends. How you store the food matters too. Freezer storage containers preserve food color, flavor, and nutritious value. But they can also generate other forms of waste if we’re using plastic storage. For example, if you use plastic bags to freeze meat and other food products, you may go zero-waste on food but not overall home waste.
Although plastics are effective for preserving food, they cause much more harm to our bodies and the environment. The production of plastics continues to increase, and we are not recycling or disposing of them properly, leading to plastic pollution.
This article will examine why it's better to freeze food without plastic, and we will also discuss how to freeze food with less plastic waste.
We started using plastic as storage containers because it preserves the quality and freshness of food, especially meat, bread, and other fresh foods. And despite plastic’s woes, it is also convenient. However, doing so contributes to an increase in the number of plastics produced. We need to understand that the harmful effects of plastics outweigh their usefulness.
We cannot overstate the downsides of plastic use on our environment. Some claim not all plastics are dangerous. However, reusable and disposable plastics break off into small pieces and release toxic materials over time. First, let's examine the primary problem of producing plastics for food storage.
A considerable percentage of the world's population uses plastic storage containers and wraps to freeze meat and other food items. This high number increases plastic waste in the environment. Plastics can take up to 500 years to degrade. During that period, plastic waste damages the soil structure and fauna.
Plastics break down into small pieces called microplastics. These microplastics get into the food chain of animals and humans, causing major health problems. Furthermore, plastic production requires oil-based raw materials, which cause global warming by disrupting the structure of the atmosphere.
Also, we often ingest these microplastics and other chemicals. How do we consume these? Plastic bags and containers we store food in break into little pieces. They also leach toxic chemicals with each usage, especially when we microwave food in them.
Yes, some manufacturers label their plastics as microwaveable. However, it doesn't mean that they don’t leach chemicals. Microwaveable means it won't melt with the heat, but it will still release plastic chemicals into your food.
According to the United States Plastic Corporation, freezing containers damages them over time. They get brittle due to water pressure when it expands, especially when there isn't enough space for the frozen food to rise. This mainly occurs in plastic types like PETG, Polycarbonate, PVC, and Polypropylene.
When considering ways of preserving food zero-waste and going zero-waste in the kitchen, you must consider plastic-free options. So, here are some alternative plastic-free containers you can use to keep food in your freezer.
A metal container is one of the best ways to store food in a freezer without plastic. It could be muffin tins, stainless steel containers, or canning jars. However, you should be careful with the type of metal you use to store food. Some metals also leach harmful chemicals into food, as plastic does. So, your best bet is a stainless steel container.
Stainless steel keeps food fresh and preserves its nutritious value. It combines different metals like iron, nickel, molybdenum, and chromium. You can store all kinds of food, like raw meat, spaghetti sauce, cooked beans, etc. Also, metal containers are easy to clean; however, don’t use them in the microwave.
You can also use some eco-friendly lunch boxes in the freezer for multi-use; just check the label to be sure. You can also source metal ice cube trays or those made from silicon, both better than plastic.
Another way to prevent food waste without plastic is to freeze food in rectangular glass storage containers. Other reusable food containers you can use to store food inside freezers include glass jars, mason jars, and any other tempered glass container. If you're buying new, look for those with glass lids, as some come with a plastic lid, or use beeswax food wrap (below) to cover up the top.
Tempered glass storage options are great for freezing liquids like juice, soups, and sauces. In addition, they are microwavable and dishwasher-approved. For a more eco-friendly load, you might also like our guide to zero-waste dishwasher detergent.
Furthermore, it is easy to stack glass plates in the freezer. They are leakproof and guaranteed to keep your cooked meat, chicken breasts, and veggie scraps fresh. However, you should be careful about sudden temperature changes when you use glass jars and plates. You should avoid heating glassware immediately after you take it out of the freezer because a sudden shift in temperature can cause breakage.
To warm the food properly in glassware, you should allow it to defrost. Then, place it on a baking sheet before putting it inside an oven or microwave. Keep in mind that glass is breakable. Glass containers can shatter if they are not appropriately handled. Glassware is one of the best plastic-free ways to store frozen foods.
Silicone freezer bags are a plastic-free way to keep food frozen and an excellent alternative to Ziploc bags. They are safe for storing food because they are free from petroleum-based chemicals, BPA, and BPS, unlike plastic freezer bags.
Silicone bags are a great way to freeze meat without plastic and a whole range of other common freezer items. Food-grade silicone bags don’t have any reactions to food items, whether it is hot or cold. They are also unbreakable, unlike glassware.
You can freeze cooked meat, raw meat, and green beans in silicone Ziploc bags. Also, you can freeze bread and other food items in silicone freezer bags.
It is better to use silicone bags than disposable freezer bags. Disposable freezer bags are not in any way zero-waste. Like other plastic-free containers, silicone is microwavable and dishwasher safe. Silicone is also more eco-friendly than plastic, and you can recycle silicone easily, with a few exceptions.
Beeswax is a natural product that can be used for many different purposes. It has been used in the past to preserve food and cookware. Now, you can use beeswax wraps to freeze food in an eco-friendly way.
The best part about using beeswax food wrap as an alternative to plastic wrap is that it is compostable. This means you can avoid plastic containers ending up in our landfills after they have been discarded. You can also wash them with a little soapy warm water, and they're good to go again.
Furthermore, while plastic wrap can leach chemicals into your food when it comes into contact with the plastic, this will not happen with beeswax wraps. You can grab beeswax wraps at a local or online zero-waste store, and they are also great for packing a zero-waste school lunch.
Another way to store meat and other foods is by wrapping them in paper. However, you don’t use just any paper. There are specific papers you can use to store food inside your freezer.
The papers include waxed paper, butcher paper, parchment paper, and freezer paper. It is advisable to refrain from using freezer paper because it is not precisely zero-waste. In addition, freezer papers are not entirely plastic-free because some manufacturers use a plastic coating to keep the food’s moisture. But the only exception to using freezer paper is by using one that has soy wax coating.
Butcher paper, on the other hand, is specifically made to wrap meat and fish. It is the best way to avoid food waste because it protects raw meat and fish from contamination.
Also, you can use parchment paper to wrap food items in the freezer; just cover the food to prevent air from getting in and close it with freezer tape. It prevents them from sticking together. Using these forms of paper wrap is better than plastic wrap as it keeps your food from getting contaminated by toxic plastic chemicals.
Lastly, aluminum foil is on our list of materials to freeze food without plastic. Note that the lightweight aluminum foil we use for baking and BBQ is only suitable for freezing food for a short period. After that, you have to find heavy-weight aluminum foil. You can use aluminum foil to store food in the freezer for over six months.
Aluminum foil is suitable for freezing food without plastic because it is moisture-resistant. It doesn’t crack or break off when used in low-temperate conditions. However, you can only use foil to store raw food items. Using aluminum on hot food items will cause leaching, causing the food to absorb aluminum properties.
You can freeze fruit, veggies, meat, and fish. You can also use it to freeze bread and leftover foods. After using and providing clean, you can recycle your aluminum foil.
We keep food in the freezer to avoid food waste. However, food goes to waste when we don’t freeze it correctly. To prevent this, we will explore some tips on the proper ways to freeze food.
But before that, what is freezer burn?
Freezer burn occurs due to a chemical process commonly referred to as sublimation. In this process, the ice turns into a gas without melting or evaporating. As a result, food loses moisture and its flavor, color, and texture. So, you have to freeze your food right to prevent freezer burn. Here are some tips that will help you avoid freezer burn without plastic storage options:
There are various containers for different types of food you want to freeze. Choosing the appropriate container will keep your food fresh for extended periods. For example, freeze bread in a paper bag, cloth bag, or glassware instead of plastic wrap.
You can also freeze meat on parchment and butcher paper. Foil paper is another way of freezing meat. However, you can use glassware and metal storage options to store them. But make sure to use containers without plastic lids.
By leaving enough space in the container, you can avoid freezer burn when freezing meat and other food items. There is a big chance you won’t be able to close the container tightly when you feel the container to the brim. You should avoid air getting into the products you want to freeze, or it will lead to food waste. Also, frozen foods tend to expand during the freezing process. A glass jar can break if there's no room for expansion.
You should freeze your food in small portions. You’re not preventing food wastage when you freeze large quantities of food and defrost and freeze multiple times. You keep reducing the quality and nutritional value1 of the food.
Whatever you do, avoid freezing hot food. Freezing hot food will increase the internal temperature of the freezer, and it will start affecting other frozen items in the freezer. The best thing to do is to wait for it to cool down before freezing.
Also, do not refreeze frozen meat, frozen fruit, or frozen berries after defrosting and heating them. Raw foods have yeasts and bacteria in them. Freezing them doesn’t kill them. So, when you take them out and defrost them, you are increasing the microorganisms that cause food wastage. Freezing them again might make them unsafe to eat because you expose them to higher levels of microbes.
Avoid opening your freezer door frequently and unnecessarily. Instead, it should be closed for extended periods. Frequently opening your freezer could expose its contents to microbes, pathogens, and germs, leading to food waste. It could also disrupt the freezer’s temperature and lead to freezer burn, not to mention ensuring you don’t lose too much of the cold air helps you save electricity at home.
Another method of preventing food waste is to label your food items. It allows you to recognize what food is in each container and help you avoid defrosting the wrong food. Also, labeling the containers with the dates you added them to the freezer will allow you to monitor their shelf life.
Avoiding single-use plastics is the first step to freezing your food without plastic. Plastic containers cause more harm than good to our health and environment. For this reason, we should use containers made of glass and metal. But, of course, we can also use paper and foil.
Furthermore, preventing food waste should always be our priority, especially when we freeze meat, ground beef, cooked food, and other edible material.
Van Huis, A., Van Itterbeeck, J., Klunder, H., Mertens, E., Halloran, A., Muir, G., & Vantomme, P. (2013). Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security (No. 171). FAO forestry paper.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.