Every time we see news about plastic pollution, it inspires us to take deeper action. This week, National Geographic published, “The amount of plastic trash that flows into the oceans every year is expected to nearly triple by 2040”.
It’s a good read on reducing plastic leakage through systemic change. While we’ll continue casting our ballots for the people who can help us get there, we’re still committed to making change on an individual level. What actions are you going to take this week to reduce plastic waste?
Today, we’re looking at our freezers.
Freezing stuff without plastic can be confusing. Seemingly straightforward options have their own problems, so how do you freeze stuff and stay eco-friendly? We’ll dive into the best plastic-free alternatives and what to avoid.
What to avoid
Freezer paper is coated with plastic. At least Reynolds is up front with that for those of us who want to avoid plastic -- it’s right in the product name: Reynolds Kitchens Plastic Coated Freezer Paper.
Wax paper is seemingly innocent. Paper and wax -- organic materials right? Well, some wax paper is lined with a soybean or vegetable-oil based wax, or it can be made with a petroleum-based wax (non-biodegradable). Be sure to read your labels!
Many cities include butcher paper on their list of compostables, but not all butcher paper is actually safe for composting. If you’ve used butcher paper, you know that it has a shiny side -- this keeps it slick and water-resistant. There are no official sources that tell us whether that coating is petroleum-based or not, but plenty of publications and blogs on the Internet state that most butcher paper has a plastic lining. If you want to use butcher paper, contact the manufacturer and inquire about the lining they use before you buy.
The jury is still out on whether silicone is actually okay for the environment. It can theoretically be recycled, but few curbside recycling programs actually accept silicone. Silicone also doesn’t biodegrade, though it doesn’t break down into harmful microplastics or leach hormone disrupting chemicals into your food, it still won’t go away once you're done with it.
We’ve had a hard time finding parchment paper that we can be 100% certain is safe for the environment. Every brand of parchment paper that we’ve found uses a silicone coating, which, like we said, is up for debate.
The brand If You Care is widely known for their eco-conscious products and uses a silicone spray on their parchment paper. Here’s what they say on their website:
“Parchment Paper has a fine misting of food safe and non-toxic silicone. Silicone is derived from the element Silicon, which is why it can be composted.”
I pressed them further on this by email and they added, “The silicone we use is an incredibly fine mist, which has tested under multiple certifications to meet all composting qualifications, even home composting where high heat [isn’t] required.” and guided me to their certifications page.
Even from an eco-friendly brand like If You Care, I can’t help but wonder if tiny particles of silicone really is safe.
Okay so how CAN I freeze food without plastic?
There are tons of great plastic-free options to un-plastic your freezer. Here are the best options for freezing food without plastic:
1. Glass jars
Glass jars are perfect for soups, stews, and sauces. Next time you buy nut butter, pickles, or really anything that comes in a glass jar, wash it out and save it for food storage.
If you’re buying new glass jars, many popular brands like Mason and Ball actually have a plastic coating on the lid. Weck uses rubber and metal to secure their lids.
When freezing liquids in glass, be sure to leave some room at the top. Liquids expand when they freeze and the jar will break if there’s no room to expand.
2. Beeswax wraps and bags
Reusable beeswax food bags are a great alternative to plastic or silicone ziplock bags. Just pop in those berries (pre-frozen on a baking sheet) or leftover pancakes and seal it closed.
A beeswax wrap can turn whatever container you already have into freezer storage -- whether you’re freezing leftover egg yolks in a cup, or covering a casserole.
You can even use an extra large beeswax wrap to freeze an entire loaf of bread for a couple weeks without an additional container. Make sure it’s well covered to avoid freezer burn.
Beeswax wraps are best used in the freezer for 30 days or less at a time. Be sure to unwrap slowly when removing from the freezer as the wax in the wrap will have frozen and could create cracks in the wax.
3. Stainless steel tupperware
Stainless steel tupperware is a great alternative to plastic or glass tupperware (which often has plastic lids). You have the breadth you’ll need for larger items like meat that might be cumbersome in jars.
Although these won’t break like glass, it’s still best to leave some room at the top so the metal doesn’t warp.
Note that most stainless steel tupperware has a silicone ring to make it watertight.
4. Ice cube trays and muffin pans
For small portions of things, like garlic purée, tomato paste, or homemade bouillon cubes, ice cube trays and muffin pans can help you portion them off into perfect sizes to cook with.
You can leave them in the tray, or once frozen, pop them out and stick them in a reusable food bag for long-term storage.
Since you can’t twist muffin pans like you can with ice cube trays, we recommend letting them thaw just a little so they can slide out easily.
5. Baking sheet
A baking sheet is a great way to freeze things like fruit, pizza, or my favorite nut butter bars before transferring them to long-term storage.
6. Aluminum foil
This can be an option when you need it, though we think other options are better. It’s plastic-free and recyclable, but it’s generally single use because it’s so thin and fragile. It can also be hard to recycle if it gets messy food stuck on it.
7. Glass tupperware
Most glass tupperware comes with plastic lids, though there are some brands with a small amount of silicone like these with a bamboo lid. If you just can’t not see what’s in your containers and a glass jar won’t work, glass tupperware can be a good option. If you can use other options without silicone, that’s what we recommend.
Like with glass jars, leave some space at the top for liquids to expand and avoid breakage.
Check labels or check with the manufacturer before buying paper products which can be lined with non-biodegradable coatings.
Your best options for plastic-free freezer storage are glass jars, beeswax food wraps and bags, stainless steel tupperware, ice cube trays, muffin pans, baking sheets, aluminum foil, and glass tupperware.
Remember to label and date your freezer items. Some things last longer than others so you want to be sure you use it in an appropriate time frame. Plus, it can be a pain unthawing a container with unknown contents!
What are your best plastic-free freezer tips? Let us know in the comments below.