Do you have the same problem?
If you are reading this, you probably do.
And so do I.
I used to be buying plastic food storage containers for myself all the time.
And I did not really give it too much of a thought until one day I started researching about whether or not plastic food containers are better than glass
Is glass or plastic better for food storage? For food storage glass is better than plastic. Glass is proven to be safe for food storage and packaging applications. Glass will not leach harmful chemicals into your food, nor will it retain odors or flavors. This makes glass better at preserving your food fresh for longer compared to plastic.
With that being said, there are a lot of little caveats when it comes to picking up the right material for your food storage container of choice.
If you want to find out more, read on.
Here I share everything I have learned about this tricky topic.
Glass Food Storage Containers
Glass is hands down, head and shoulders above plastic when it comes to food storage.
Glass is made from naturally occurring materials like sand and alkali. However, other materials can be added to alter its properties.
Advantages of Glass Food Storage Containers
1. Glass Is Inert
Inert materials do not normally react with other substances and materials.
This means the glass container is not going to react in any way with the food or drinks stored in it.
Glass food containers can be used for storing safely, even acidic food. Unlike metal and plastic containers, glass is not going to leach off harmful toxins or metals.
This is why glass is considered one of the best and cleanest materials for storing food.
2. Glass Is Transparent
Glass food containers are usually transparent.
But is that important?
In a way, it is. I have tried using a lot of different types of food containers, and I have found out that I would have the easiest time with transparent containers.
Transparent food containers are better because they allow you to see clearly what is inside of them.
This is especially helpful when you have a fridge filled with multiple food containers. The last thing you want is to have to open all of them to see what is inside.
3. Glass Does Not Deteriorate
Glass is one of the few materials that can actually last a really long time. In fact, it is believed that it may take at least 1 million years for glass to break down and decompose on its own.
Glass does not stain, corrode, decompose, fade, or deteriorate in any significant way, shape, or form.
Not a lot of human-made materials have such long-lasting capabilities.
This means that if properly looked after, a simple glass container or glass bottle can stay by your side for as long as you want.
4. Glass Will Not Warp
Glass is a material that will not change its form with time.
This is a highly valuable property, especially when we are talking about food storage.
There will be a lot smaller chance of leakage as the glass will remain the same, and the sealing lid will always be a good fit and will prevent any leakages.
If anything wraps with time, it will be the lid; and replacing a lid is usually cheaper than replacing a whole new food container.
5. Glass Maintains the Quality of Food
As a combined outcome from all the qualities of glass as a material, it can keep your food fresh, clean, and better-tasting for longer compared to plastic containers.
6. Glass Is 100% Recyclable
In relation to the ever-increasing plastic pollution, glass can offer a better alternative.
Glass is environmentally friendly material because it can be 100% recycled, and better yet, it does not lose any of its properties after recycling.
Disadvantages of Glass Food Storage Containers
1. Glass Is Fragile
Glass food containers, although built to last, can easily be shattered into many pieces if dropped on a hard surface.
I never worry when using a plastic or metal container, but with glass, I always have to exercise extra caution.
If dropped glass will easily break into tiny pieces and there is no reliable way to fix it. You just have to throw it away.
Broken glass is also very dangerous as you can hurt yourself.
2. Glass Is Heavy
Another significant disadvantage is its weight. Glass is heavier than the majority of other materials used for food storage.
Even some metal containers will be significantly lighter compared to glass.
This can make glass food containers not very attractive to backpackers and people that like to travel light.
Some manufacturers have been experimenting with thinning the glass walls to make the container more lightweight. But this can be dangerous as it will make the container more fragile.
3. Glass Is Expensive
I am not talking about mind-numbingly expensive, but compared to other materials, glass comes on the more expensive side.
Compared to the advantages of glass food containers, the price is well worth it.
However, for some people, the investment may be a deal-breaker.
What are the different types of glass containers used for food storage?
Upon further inspection, what I have found out is that different types of glass can be used for food storage containers.
The most commonly used types of glass are borosilicate glass and soda-lime glass.
But what exactly makes them different?
You might have heard that even Pyrex used borosilicate glass before but since have switched to soda-lime glass.
This was all the more reason for me to try and dig deeper.
Soda Lime Glass
Soda lime glass is made from sodium oxide (soda), sodium dioxide (silica), calcium oxide (lime), magnesium oxide, and aluminum oxide.
Soda-lime glass is predominantly used for manufacturing various glass containers.
One of the main reasons for soda-lime glass to be so popular is that it is cheaper to make compared to borosilicate (This is the main reason why Pyrex is no longer using borosilicate, by the way.).
Borosilicate glass is made from sodium dioxide, sodium oxide, boric oxide, and aluminum oxide.
Borosilicate glass, on the other hand, is often used in the pharmaceutical industry, laboratories, and more. However, it is also used for manufacturing bakeware.
Well, just because soda-lime glass is cheaper does not mean it is of inferior quality. In fact, there are several things that both types of glass share.
Both borosilicate and soda-lime glass are
- Considered safe for food storage;
- Smooth and non-porous;
- Microwave-safe; and
- Are inert materials and will not leach any harmful substances into your food.
So, both share the most important characteristics that make glass, in general, such an excellent material.
But you may wonder if there are any differences between the two. And you will be right in doing so.
There are differences, which, although very subtle, can be important.
Let us take a look.
Borosilicate vs. Soda-Lime Glass
If you are wondering which type of glass is best for you, the right answer will depend on how you will be using your glass food container.
Since Borosilicate has better resistance to thermal shocks, it is a lot more suitable for heating and refrigerating food frequently.
This does not mean that it cannot shatter from extreme temperature swings. It can. It just means that it can withstand higher temperature shocks compared to soda-lime glass.
The next thing that you may like is the fact that Borosilicate glass is more impact resistant and thus will not break as easily if dropped. However, it is still glass, so although a little tougher, it can still break.
In laboratory conditions, Borosilicate is mostly used because of its superior resistance to acids and better plasticity.
In a way, Borosilicate is not a free pass, just a little safer and more versatile alternative.
On the other hand, the soda-lime glass should not be exposed to a lot of temperature swings. But it can still be used to microwave your food or refrigerate it.
You just have to make sure that the temperature change is gradual and slowly introduced. If you are not going to be reheating your frozen or refrigerated food in it, then this may not be a problem for you.
Are All Glass Food Containers Safe?
The answer is no. Not all glass food storage containers are safe for use. Some glass containers may contain different chemicals like lead, which can be dangerous and leach into the food and drinks.
The studies in this field show that usually the amounts of lead that leaches into the food, are small but increase significantly with time. Acidic substances and alcohol can speed up that process.
The experts have stated that lead glass should not be used by children at all.
Because of that, the great majority of today’s glassware does not contain any lead. Lead glass is mainly used for decorative purposes.
Plastic Food Storage Containers
If we compare plastic to glass, we will clearly see that plastic is one of the most popularly and widely used materials for both water bottles and food storage containers.
But does popularity correlate with quality, and does that mean that plastic is the right choice?
Let us take a look.
Advantages of Plastic Food Storage Containers
1. Plastic Is Durable
Plastic is a lot more durable compared to glass.
If you are frequently taking your food container to work, hiking, traveling, or just about anything else, plastic will give you peace of mind.
Not that plastic food containers cannot break, they can. But on average they last a very long time.
Especially compared to glass, plastic can take a lot more hits and bumps before actually breaking or splitting. If you drop your plastic food container, it may crack, but the chances are significantly lower compared to glass.
2. Plastic Is Cheap
The manufacturing costs for plastic are very low. This makes plastic food containers very cheap.
Plastic is, on average cheaper compared to all the other materials that can be used for making food storage containers.
And even if your plastic container breaks, you can easily replace it without costing you any significant amount of money.
3. Plastic Is Lightweight
One of the things that are making plastic the go-to material is that it is very lightweight. You can place ten plastic food containers in your backpack, and you will barely feel anything.
Glass cannot compare in any way to plastic when it comes down to weight.
This makes plastic containers great for people that travel a lot or want to bring a lot of different plastic containers with themselves.
Disadvantages of Plastic Food Storage Containers
1. Plastic Degrades
Plastic is very susceptible to scratching, denting, and warping with time and use.
One of the biggest issues I have ever had was that plastic food containers would start to warp when exposed to hot food, any kind of heat, or just over time and regular use.
This will cause the lid not to fit properly, and food and liquids can leak out.
So every time I had to use a plastic container, I had to make sure that it stays horizontal all the time. This is something very hard to achieve if you are bringing food to your office or while camping.
Plastic is easy to scratch, and this can make it very hard to clean because food and other stuff can get stuck in the cracks.
2. Plastic Retains Odors and Flavors
Due to the porous nature of plastic as a material, it tends to absorb and retain the odors and flavors of the food and liquids stored in it.
Foods that contain curry, tomato, garlic, and other similar strong ingredients can leave a lingering odor that even a dishwasher may not be able to remove.
I have found out that some plastics also can somehow retain the oil if you have stored oily food in them. The whole container becomes very slippery and hard to wash properly.
Plastic is also very easy to stain and lose its normal colors.
3. Plastic Is Not Environmentally Safe
Although plastic can be recycled, the rates are very low. It frequently ends up in landfills or in the environment.
But even if we want to recycle our plastic containers, not all types of plastic are recyclable. The majority of plastic is either not recyclable or just very hard to recycle due to its chemical properties.
The bad thing here is that plastic does not biodegrade. It takes hundreds of years for plastic to break down, but even then, it continues to exist in the form of tiny plastic particles that contaminate the soil and oceans.
The plastic contamination and toxicity are very hard to clean and reduce. This is why plastic is one of the biggest environmental concerns today.
4. Plastic Is a Health Concern
Plastic is a major health hazard because it contains harmful chemicals like:
- Bisphenol A (BPA);
- Phthalates; and
The problem is that people are being exposed to these plastic chemicals on a daily basis. This happens through the everyday use of plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic food containers, plastic straws, plastic plates, plastic utensils, and so much more. (Even receipts have BPA in them!)
In one study, experts examined 2,517 people. They found detectable levels of BPA in the urine of 92.6% of them. (And that was back in 2003 and 2004!)
Plastic food containers should not be used for microwaving food, storing hot food or liquids. Frequently they should not even be washed in the dishwasher. All of this can lead to more harmful chemicals being leached into your food.
Now let us take a look at the commonly found chemical in plastic food containers.
What Dangerous Chemicals Are Found in Plastic Food Containers?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a common building material in plastic.
The bad news is that BPA is considered an endocrine or hormonal disruptor. And since hormones regulate almost every single function in the body, disrupting their functions and balance can result in serious health issues.
BPA is also considered to have estrogen-mimicking effects.
Multiple studies link BPA to reproductive, metabolic, and even developmental problems.
The next chemical dangerous chemical on the list is the phthalate. Phthalates are used for making the plastic more flexible and soft.
Phthalates have been linked to a great majority of different health disease. And to make matters worse, these chemical compounds can be found in almost everything.
Do All Plastics Have BPA in Them?
Not all of the plastic containers have BPA in them. Usually, plastic containers (and plastic bottles, too) are marked with different numbers – one through seven – on the bottom.
- #1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)
- #2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- #3 Polyvinyl Chloride (V)
- #4 Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
- #5 Polypropylene (PP)
- #6 Polystyrene (PS)
- #7 Other
Not all types of plastics are created equal, and not all are considered safe or even recyclable. Usually, plastics with the numbers #3 and #7 contain BPA. The other types of plastics may not always contain BPA.
The general consensus is that numbers #3, #6, and #7 should be avoided and that numbers #4 and #5 are usually safe for use.
Is Glass or Plastic Better for Food Storage? (The Winner)
Clearly, plastic food storage containers are more convenient to use and own. They are portable, lightweight, they will not easily break, and they are super cheap.
I have been researching and working with different types of storage containers, and what worries me is that plastic continues to remain a significant environmental hazard.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
- Out of the 139.6 million tons of Municipal Solid, Waste (MSW) that ended in landfills plastics accounted for 19.2%;
- Plastic continues to have some of the lowest recycling percentages compared to its total generation (about 8% in 2017); and
- Plastic, durable goods, packaging, and containers had been growing steadily from 8.2% in 1990 to over 13% in 2017.
Plastic is also a major health hazard due to the BPA and phthalates found in them. These chemicals may:
- Cause hormone disruption;
- Affect the brain and behavior;
- Cause cancer;
- Cause increased incidence of heart issues; and many other health conditions.
These chemicals are even more dangerous to young children and infants.
And according to a recent study published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, the FDA may have underestimated the levels of BPA to which people are being exposed. After comparing the measuring methodologies used, they believe that humans may be exposed to 44 times as much BPA as once, though.
On the other hand, we have the glass.
Glass is not an environmental or health hazard. It is a lot cleaner than plastic; it will not absorb odors; it will not leach any harmful chemicals, and overall is a lot more safe to use.
The only significant danger of glass is that it can break. Still, in my opinion, the potential health dangers are a lot smaller compared to the numerous health hazards associated with plastic containers.
Glass containers are certainly the winner.
Resources I Used: