zero-waste produce storage.

June 12, 2017

zero-waste produce storage | reading my tea leaves Two weeks ago Faye and I found ourselves on a very early morning farmers’ market run. The intention had merely been to get out of the apartment where we’d been trying our best not to annoy the downstairs neighbor since 6 am. I took off with her vaguely in the direction of coffee and a muffin and ended up at the farmers’ market. Having left the house in something of a hurry, we weren’t what you might call market-ready. We didn’t have bags or baskets, but we did have a stroller and so I did what any mildly enthusiastic zero-waste wannabe would do and began to fill the undercarriage of the stroller with market goodies: strawberries and chamomile and handfuls of loose sugar snap peas, heaved haphazardly to mingle with the playground sand and whatever else finds its way into the under belly of a city stroller. As I was strolling off with Faye, a neighborly woman stopped me after noticing that I hadn’t availed myself of the plastic bags on offer at the farmer’s stand. What, she wondered was I going to do with my loot once I returned home?

“Do you have containers for all of that?” “Bags?” “Where will it end up?”

So, here I am. Two weeks and a fresh farmers’ market haul later, with a brief description of how I store fresh produce without single-use plastic. I’ve not done rigorous tests to be certain that my techniques are the best techniques. But they work for me, they keep my veggies and herbs fresh until I’m able to use them, and the process from market to fridge is swift, painless, and doesn’t require anything in the way of special equipment. 
zero-waste produce storage | reading my tea leavesTowels: 
I give fresh herbs or hardy greens a quick wash once I return home. I follow the bath with a quick wrapping in a clean cloth dishtowel or napkin—forming a neat packet with cloth. I find that the towel does a great job at the keeping the greens sufficiently moist without getting too soggy. (In case you’re tempted to take a slightly lazy route, I have found that the wash is, indeed, crucial. Herbs or greens taken directly from hot market stand to dishtowel don’t hold up for me nearly as well as those that get a fresh bath upon returning home.)

zero-waste produce storage | reading my tea leavesBowls:
The jury’s out on whether it’s a good idea to wash things like strawberries directly upon returning home, but with a hungry three-year old in the apartment who has recently learned to open the fridge by propping her foot on the adjacent cabinet and leveraging her full body weight against the door, I’ve found that washing directly is better. Whether it’s strawberries or grapes or leftover portions of pasta salad, I almost always have at least one of my covered stainless steel bowl in my fridge for storage. I love this simple set we bought a few years ago, but anything with a lid will do.zero-waste produce storage | reading my tea leaves
For loose salad greens, I start by trying my best to frequent the farm stands that allow me to fill up my own bag with their mix of baby greens instead of pre-bagging them for me. When I get home, I give them a swish in cool water, a whirl through the salad spinner, and more often than not, I store them directly in the bowl of the spinner until I’m ready to use them.
zero-waste produce storage | reading my tea leavesJars:
I often use a wide-mouthed mason jar to store veggies I’d like to stay crisp: things like carrots and scallions, spring onions and asparagus keep beautifully in a open mason jar filled with just an inch or so of water. Some veggies, like carrots, benefit from a bit of beeswrap or a lid on top to keep moisture and crispness in.

Cloth Bags:
When I go to the market prepared, I use an assortment of cloth bags to carry my smaller veggies. I’m not terribly precious about them and don’t mind if they get dirty, but if they do, a quick swipe of a stain-removing soap bar gets them clean again. In other words, yes, sometimes I shock the strawberry farmer at the market by refusing his plastic and brazenly dumping my strawberries into a cloth bag. Cheap thrills. Once home and depending on the vegetables, I might keep the veggies in their cloth bag in the crisper. Heads of broccoli, handfuls of mushrooms, even those little summer squashes get paired together in a bag—for freshness, but also for organization plain and simple.zero-waste produce storage | reading my tea leaves

And, of course, sometimes I fail at all of this. Sometimes I can’t make it the market where I get my greens in bulk and so I end up with a plastic bag. Sometimes I let my fresh herbs turn to brittle stalks in the crisper. Sometimes I order pizza knowing perfectly well that there’s a salad’s worth of greens that are threatening mutiny if I don’t eat them. The point is to encourage, not to shame. If you have a brilliant fresh vegetable solution of your own, please share.

If you’re curious about other zero waste adventures, there’s more here.

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71 Comments

  • Reply Annie June 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Love your ideas, Erin! I too, get a look of confusion when I politely refuse a plastic market bag. You have such a great approach to a low-waste lifestyle. Keep on!

  • Reply Mary Kate June 12, 2017 at 10:32 am

    I live with a partner who is a little obsessive when it comes to making sure food doesn’t go bad (a habit clearly picked up from his mother, I’ve observed) and I’ve slowly had to wean him off of wrapping everything in saran wrap or ziplock bags before even putting it in storage containers. I can’t imagine what he’d do if he saw me throwing product into a non-plastic bag (“What if it goes bad before we get home?” ) We’re getting married soon and I registered for high-quality storage containers that will hopefully help kick him of his plastic habit. These cloth bags you speak of — are they produce-specific or just regular tote bags? I do reuse the farmers market plastic bags we get, but I would love to have fewer (to none) at my house in the future…

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Our cloth bags are really just anything lightweight with a drawstring! If you don’t have any, a few of my sponsors carry them in their shops! Check out Natural Linens, Meus, and Boston General Store for options!

      • Reply Mary Kate June 13, 2017 at 3:38 pm

        Cool thank you! Reusable coffee filters, also on my list of things to obtain!

  • Reply Anne June 12, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Thanks for the tips! After a lot of deliberation I’ve decided to go the CSA route this summer and I can’t help be a little nervous about storing everything properly to ensure my investments stay fresh for as long as possible!

    I was just thinking how much I would love to see a post of a week of dinners at your house. Do you apply the same simple living approach to your cooking?
    I cook often but usually rely on recipes. I’m trying to get better at spontaneously putting a dish together with whatever I have in my fridge. Especially now that I’ll be receiving a weekly CSA.
    Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Oh, exciting! I write a bit about our dinner routine in my book. I use a combination of recipes and riffing on old standards! We definitely try to take the simple approach with dinners, but after a long day of two parents working sometimes that definitely includes burritos to go!

    • Reply Sam June 12, 2017 at 12:19 pm

      I’ve had a CSA since 2008 and have found that the pressure to use everything up has made me a very inventive cook – and now with a baby I’m an efficient, simple and inventive cook. Follow some produce heavy recipe blogs (101cookbooks and sproutedkitchen are my favs) to tap for general ideas and you’ll learn fast!!!

    • Reply Ris June 12, 2017 at 3:18 pm

      I’m starting my third summer with a CSA and I’ve found two things to be very helpful in making sure we don’t waste food. 1. My CSA makes available on their website a few days ahead of time what will be in our box, so I meal plan and grocery shop around that info. 2. Freeze stuff like it’s going out of style! I have become an avid user of my freezer–I just google how best to freeze something that might be on its last leg or won’t get eaten before it goes off.

  • Reply Nicole June 12, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Very helpful post, as are so many on your blog! I struggle with what to do with cut produce, like a half an onion or a pear that I want to use later. Any tips there?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 11:06 am

      Sometimes I just put it in a bowl with plate balanced on top, sometimes I put them in the smallest stainless bowl with a lid, sometimes I wrap it in beeswrap!

    • Reply Alison June 12, 2017 at 11:32 am

      I try to halve mine without slicing (if avoidable), and then put cut side down into a bowl. I think it helps to keep it from drying out and exposing the item to moisture/other fridge smells 🙂 I usually don’t find the need to cover if it’s only going to be a day or two. I do this with avocados, onions, apples, etc.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 11:37 am

        Also this!

    • Reply Carmella June 12, 2017 at 11:46 am

      Love this post, Erin! Hey, Nicole! My favorite way to store the half apple or onion is in a mason jar with a sealed lid. It’s surprised me how long they keep this way, plus I’ve often found it to be v handy to have a prepped onion/snack on hand.

    • Reply Amanda June 12, 2017 at 11:47 am

      I find that if I just chop the other half of the onion that I’m not planning to use at that moment and put it in a container, I’m more likely use it later, than if I leave it un-chopped. In my experience, even chopped, an onion will keep for quite a while, then I usually just throw it in eggs, soup, pasta etc. (I also use pears when making smoothies, and chop and freeze whatever I don’t use for another smoothie in the future.)

    • Reply Cee June 12, 2017 at 11:58 am

      Little mason jars! For smaller stuff anyway, I plop the cut side on the lid, glass on top, spin the ring around. I have half a tomato in my fridge right now.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 12:15 pm

        Also!

    • Reply Julia June 15, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      In addition to a ton of repurposed glass jars, I have a few Food Huggers I use sometimes — reusable silicone caps for the cut end of fruits and vegetables: https://foodhuggers.com/products/set-of-five-food-huggers-fresh-greens The large ones are especially great for things that are too big or awkwardly shaped to fit easily in most jars.

  • Reply Linda June 12, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I too also use fabric bags when I grocery shop! I think the only thing I am still prone to using plastics for is when I buy seafood or meat and don’t want those to dirty them. Ah well. Also, do you have a recommendation on a good salad spinner? Yours looks like it comes with an extra lid for storage. 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 11:09 am

      It does! We’ve had ours since James and I first moved in together ten years ago, but this is the slightly updated model from Oxo. Not positive this one comes with the storage lid!

      • Reply Kari June 12, 2017 at 2:34 pm

        We used to have a salad spinner, but given the plastic basket inside and the amount of space it took up in our small kitchen, when it broke we went with a better solution. I can’t remember where I got this idea, but spin your lettuce outside in a clean pillowcase. Just gather the ends up in your hand and whirl it around. It works great. Then, just wrap the lettuce in a clean towel. Of course, you have to have a bit of outside space for this to work.

  • Reply Coreen June 12, 2017 at 11:04 am

    I really appreciate all the zero-waste encouragement (and not shaming)! I’m trying to push my little apartment household in that direction but it’s slow going, especially when not all parties are as enthusiastic about it as I am. But we’re making progress and all these little tips definitely help.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 11:09 am

      So glad!

  • Reply Cynthia June 12, 2017 at 11:11 am

    I have a clear, wide cookie jar with a lid which I like to fill with carrot sticks, radishes, celery stalks and cold water. It looks pretty in the fridge and makes grabbing a snack so easy. When children are in the house it makes veggies easy to choose and if you keep a jar of hummus or homemade salad dressing handy for dipping, even better. Thanks for all you do to nudge us along!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 11:17 am

      I love the idea of using a wide cookie jar! So much easier to fit everything into, plus the domed lid! Genius!

  • Reply MA June 12, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Great post, and great ideas in the comments! I too have a goal of shopping plastic-free as I hate those single-use plastic bags so many of which end up polluting our waterways and oceans. One thing I have found for herbs is to stick them in a small glass of water with an ice cube in it and store in the fridge if your house is hot. Same goes for any greens that wilted on the voyage home – submerge in cold water with some ice cubes for a few minutes then dry them on a towel. Helps to perk them up.

    In an ideal world, I want to “stride ahead” like Tamar Adler (i find this video mesmerizing – http://www.tamareadler.com/2011/10/10/how-to-stride-ahead-part-2/). But most weeks I’m just happy to get to my farmer’s market, and continue to lower my standards to eat slightly less-than-perfect veggies that may have had a rough trip home!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 12:16 pm

      Yes! A good cool rinse works wonders! I used to go the jar route for fresh herbs, but I find the towel trick extends the life a little longer!

  • Reply Cee June 12, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Curious what brand your salad spinner is – salad greens are my downfall it seems, but being able to spin and store in one thing would be very helpful!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      It’s an older version of this OXO spinner we’ve had for ten years! If this ever conks out, I’d love a spinner with a glass bowl, but this one has served us well!

  • Reply Karina June 12, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    I love my silk bags from kootsac. https://www.etsy.com/listing/98218363/natural-silk-bulk-food-bags-produce-bags?ref=shop_home_active_2
    They are great for bulk and produce, and weigh the same as a plastic bag, so no tare necessary. I find that a linen or cotton sack, rinsed and wrung out is great for storing carrots and other crisper drawer items.

  • Reply Kaitlyn June 12, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Love these tips! I do many of this already. Another idea: after losing too many precious bunches of cilantro and parlsey in the crisper drawer, I’ve started storing bunches of fresh herbs in mason jars with their stems in water. Sometimes I’ll keep them in the fridge but I was recently craving some greenery in my apartment, so I kept the parsley in the center of our dining table – and it lasted, bright and big and green, for almost two weeks. I just kept switching out the water so it didn’t get funky. Bonus budget tip: a lot cheaper than buying a bouquet!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      Ha, true! I love a good herb bouquet but in our hot apartment I’ve found the herbs washed and wrapped in a towel last so much longer!

  • Reply Christie June 12, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Erin,

    You turned my family onto zero waste! Thank you. We have made substantial progress over the year and buy almost nothing pre-packaged now. One thing we do for berries, cherry tomatoes, and other soft fruits is take along glass jars. We dump the berries, cherries, tomatoes into the jars. The jars keep them from getting squished on the trip home and are great ways to store the fruit on the counter (or in the fridge if necessary, but I love the look of all of the colors on the counter). I have found that berries stored this way keep a long time. They haven’t been bruised by being banged around in a bag and don’t rot as fast.

    • Reply Trish O June 12, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      Love love the jar idea. Why did I not think of that. My berries always are getting smoothed. Great idea.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 13, 2017 at 8:48 am

      Love that, though I find that toting lots of glass jars on foot to the farmers’ market gets a little cumbersome! Happily, I never feel like my berries suffer too much bruising on the way home!

  • Reply MelD June 12, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Bonne Maman jam jars…

    However did people survive before plastic?!

    Like my granny, who never relied on any of these products; she had a shopping bag, paper bags/brown paper, bowls with plates for lids, no fridge at all until 1973 and no freezer until she was 95. Bears thinking about!!

  • Reply Kelsey June 12, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    I love posts like this – always inspiring 🙂
    Have you heard of vejibags? I’ve been using these to store my veggies in the crisper and they really do work! My produce doesn’t feel like a ticking time bomb anymore.. it stays fresh for a couple weeks (really!) in these bags.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 12, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      New to me!

    • Reply Hannah Lynch June 12, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      Those look very intriguing. I am in a rental where the fridge is so desiccating that anything in it that is not sealed with a tight lid will dry out and go limp (berries, greens, even eggplant which is normally hardy) because the moisture is just sucked right out. I obviously can’t fit enough sealable containers in the fridge to keep all my produce in them, so it’s an issue and I do resort to wrapping some things in tied plastic bags because otherwise they’ll dry out. I’ll have to give these a try instead!

    • Reply Miina June 13, 2017 at 6:26 am

      Looked at their website, seems the idea is the same that Erin is doing – keeping veggies in a damp cloth, but instead of towel, they use bag.
      Easier and much cheaper to do one yourself or ask a crafty friend to sew it.
      But then again, their bags do look fancy and if one wants their crisper drawer to look good and has the money to support such enterprise, why not 🙂

  • Reply Jen June 12, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    So glad I clicked through to leave a comment because there are great ideas here too! You’ve definitely inspired me to go the cloth-produce bag route now that it’s farmers market season. (Also in the vein of zero waste, I recently referenced your junk mail post to get myself off all those annoying mailing lists, so thanks for that!)

  • Reply Cait June 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    I have those same cuisinart bowls and they are wonderful! Thank you for all these ideas and especially for the ‘encouragement, not shaming’ part. It is too easy to talk about these things and only feel condemned for how far you have to go! Baby steps (and great effort too) are to be celebrated.

  • Reply Emma June 12, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    These are such great ideas! And a bonus – they look super pretty too. Never thought about storing things in towels or cloth bags before but will definitely be trying these. Thanks!

  • Reply Lo June 12, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    Love these tips! I’m constantly battling with myself over wasted produce. I’m curious, are there any items you leave out on the counter rather than refrigerate? Do you keep the mason jar items in water in the fridge?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 13, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Sometimes! But generally this is stuff that does best when kept cool!

  • Reply Gigi June 12, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    This is so timely! I am harvesting veggies from my garden and want to keep them fresh as long as possible. Out of curiosity, do you ever wash your berries in salt water to keep them fresh longer? Whenever I have washed them in only tap water, they tend to mold more quickly than without a rinse. Salt water usually keeps them nicer for longer though it adds a salty flavor.

    • Reply Miina June 13, 2017 at 6:30 am

      Ooh, that’s something new! I’ve heard about washing with vinegar-y water (it evaporates and should leave no smell or taste), but not salt water. Now I wonder if it could help with vegetables, not only berries, because if one uses veggies in savoury dishes anyway salty taste shouldn’t be a problem.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 13, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Interesting! Have never done!

  • Reply Melanie June 12, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    Great ideas. I’m yet to put in that much effort really. I take my own shopping bags and avoid putting fruits and vegetables into individual plastic bags and just throw them loosely into a cotton shopping bag. I had no idea that keeping veggies in jars and towels would help keep them fresher longer. I usually just throw them right in the crisper and by the end of the week I use up as much as I can but still end up having to throw things away. Especially carrots because its bizzarely way cheaper to buy them prepackaged in a plastic bag than to buy them loose. I really wish regular supermarkets would stop using such unneccessary packaging. Why can’t they sell loose berries and why do they need to bunch vegetables together with rubber bands so the only option is to buy more than you need. It’s very frustrating.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 13, 2017 at 8:46 am

      Oh, I know it! The problem is that so much of our produce is traveling so far to supermarket shelves that it needs bundling to stay in good enough shape that folks will buy it!

  • Reply Rachel June 13, 2017 at 12:03 am

    Any suggestions for freezer storage? When it comes to freezing bread and some non jar friendly items I haven’t been able to figure out a better solution than ziplock bags! I also have a particularly small freezer so it’s nice to have flexible, space saving options that can be stacked and squeezed. Unfortunately ziplock bags are the only flexible option I’ve found that keeps the freezer burn out! Would love to hear other ideas!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 13, 2017 at 8:45 am

      We don’t freeze much, to be honest! (Tiny freezer taken up mostly by compost scraps;) Would love to hear other folks’ solutions though!

    • Reply Amanda June 13, 2017 at 10:21 am

      I freeze a lot of stuff in extra big mason jars. If it’s liquid I get it nice and cold in the fridge and then transfer to the freezer w the lid off until its frozen solid, then I put the lid on. If you’re nervous about glass shattering, put the open jar in a paper bag until its frozen, that way if it does explode it will be contained. I’ve been doing this for over a year and never had anything break!

    • Reply Julia June 15, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      Ziplock (and other sturdy plastic bags) are reusable many more times than you might think. I keep a few choice bags for frozen bread storage, and reuse them in that role for years sometimes. They get a wash occasionally, but since more bread is going in it’s not often necessary. When they get little holes, they are demoted to produce storage. I bring plastic bags I’m reusing for produce to the market in one of my shopping totes (or bag them when I get home, if I didn’t bring enough). Since the produce is dirty and needs to be washed before eating, these bags don’t need to be terribly clean either. When they’re too holey for use, I have a few local drop offs for plastic bag recycling that I can use.

  • Reply Mun June 13, 2017 at 1:14 am

    Great ideas!

  • Reply Kit June 13, 2017 at 2:33 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I love your take on Zero Waste. More encouragement, less shame needed. Thank you.

  • Reply Annika June 13, 2017 at 10:29 am

    How great is this post!?!!! This topic that everybody has to deal with everyday. I love to get info about tiny things from all-day-life-management like this! Thank you. And thank you too for using kitchen towels, because I do the same and now I feel good to do it. 🙂 Your blog, your book is amazing, inspiring like hell and definitely changed parts in my way of thinking! Thank you.

  • Reply Emily June 13, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    What freedom, when others who strive for waste-not-want-not, admit that they, too, sometimes order pizza despite about-to-turn veggies in the fridge. We’re not perfect, and I’m so relieved to be reminded I’m not the only one! 🙂

  • Reply Cordelia June 14, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    I love reading everyone’s different methods! Currently, leftovers go in mason jars and our market produce goes into cloth bags and directly into cotton totes. Then when we get home we dump everything into big plastic containers with locking lids (like these: https://www.containerstore.com/s/kitchen/food-storage/plastic/rectangular-klip-it-food-storage/123d?productId=10021671). I realize the plastic isn’t the most sustainable method, but we no longer have food waste because the bins keep things fresh for a week or longer. Plus, the stacked bins look nice and neat. Less compost to lug to the market and no more plastic bags!

  • Reply Annabel Wyatt June 15, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    This is ace, there’s an equally big farmer’s market movement here in the UK – I really like to see all the lovely fruit and veg we get sitting on the kitchen counter. Great advice with the damp tea towel tip!P.S. The photo on the LoveThy Neighbour post is awesome! xx

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 15, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply Samantha June 16, 2017 at 2:08 am

    Hi Erin,

    Where are your little check print produce bags from?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2017 at 10:15 am

      I got these on sale at Muji a while ago!

  • Reply Alison Ness June 20, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    I only just got around to catching up on some of your posts – but this one! Love these tips, I now have a project for this week – turn those old shirts I was going to donate into reusable cloth bags for the summer’s farmers markets! Thank-you!

  • Reply Sommer June 21, 2017 at 10:58 am

    I do almost all of these as well and it’s still helpful and lovely to read. There are some great tips from you and the other comments and it’s so encouraging to know that others are taking this journey, too. Thank you!

  • Reply Daniella June 21, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    Such an inspiring post on a simple topic! I love all your ideas Erin! I just purchased Flip and Tumble’s produce bags for the grocery store so the cashier can still see through them at checkout (they’re a fine mesh). You inspired me to stop using those plastic bags – ack! This may be a silly question, but do you have some sort of special “envelope” fold for the tea towel storage? I’m picturing you having some secret origami technique – ha! And for keeping greens in the salad spinner… do you cover it or leave it open?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 22, 2017 at 11:29 am

      Ha! No special fold, but I am a little fanatical about folding them all in the identical way so that they stack neatly!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 22, 2017 at 11:29 am

      Oh! And I cover the greens!

      • Reply Daniella June 22, 2017 at 10:11 pm

        Good to know! Thanks!

  • Reply Sarabeth June 22, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    For some reason I found this to be a very relaxing post to read. 🙂 Stress -10, Zen +15

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 22, 2017 at 7:29 pm

      Glad!

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