One of the easiest places to avoid buying anything new to go plastic-free is, I think, the kitchen. It's also one of the places that boasts the biggest abundance of special zero waste tools on the market. We have many of them, but we could do without most of them; most of the things we reach for on a daily basis are ones that we've had forever and that serve multiple functions.
If we had to stock a kitchen from scratch, here's what we might repurpose to store food and keep bread:
Jars, saved and scrubbed. (Or not scrubbed).
If you're trying to cut down on food stored in plastic, you can't find a much cheaper or easier source of glass containers than jars. We use ours for everything; if I looked in the fridge right now, I'd find glass jars holding, among other things, a sourdough starter, vegetable scraps to make broth, foraged black raspberries, and so many other things. Open a cabinet, same story.
You can buy jars of course, and we've bought many, some new, some from thrift stores. But you can also save them, too. Unless you're canning, there's nothing about a glass jar that formerly held olives that makes it work less well than a glass jar bought new. When I'm buying something in bulk, especially bulk liquids, I often like to save the jar from a packaged version to use. An old glass bottle that held vanilla extract is that amber-tinted color you'd want for storing bulk vanilla extract; old glass vinegar bottles, as I've noted before, are the perfect shape for pouring vinegar.
Jars work for dry goods and bulk goods, soups and starters, but also for storing fresh produce, too. Asparagus keeps better tucked into a jar with a few inches of water, as do scallions. I store parsley at room temperature in a jar with water, though the same principle doesn't seem to apply to its sisters kale, chard, or cilantro. I'd say: experiment here, but keep a close eye on produce so you can rescue it if this method doesn't seem to agree.
Plate-over-a-bowl, and other impromptu methods to top existing pans and plates.
If you have a plate, you have an instant lid for soaking beans, putting leftovers in the fridge, and so on. Also in this category: drape a tea towel over a pan of cake, wrap bread in a napkin overnight (but no longer), or rest a cloth or paper coaster on top of a jar of iced tea in the fridge (and then take care not to spill).
Since none of these methods are air-tight, they're of course less long term than others, with some risk of stale-ness and spoilage. Although I don't know about you, but when we have cake or bread or any prepared food around, it gets eaten more or less immediately. So.
Bread storage, without plastic.
We store our bread in our dutch oven, sometimes wrapped in a tea towel, sometimes not. The pot is heavy enough to keep air out and moisture in, and it's a simple solution that allowed us to finally get rid of some of our very ratty old plastic bags that we'd used for bread storage formerly. If you don't have a dutch oven or stockpot or are simply curious about other approaches, I wrote more about storing bread without plastic, including many other great ideas sourced from readers, here.
One word of caution: be careful not to keep the stock pot on your stove with bread inside - we did so up until last week, when we (meaning I) accidentally lit the wrong burner and smoked out the loaf and towel inside. Oops. Now I've cleared a spot on the counter for the dutch oven to live when it's holding bread.
If you'll allow me to recommend two things to buy, they'd be a large clear glass Pyrex-type bowl with a lid, plus a few sheets of beeswax wrap. In defense of the the former, we use ours for everything from storing bread and cookies and apples to soaking beans and keeping compostables and stashing away food scraps for broth. We have two, and they're some of the most versatile and most-used items we own; both of ours were from a thrift store or estate sale, for less than $5 each.
The latter, beeswax wrap, well, I did without it for many years of zero waste, but now that I have some, I'm hooked. It cuts down on the amount of food storage containers we need, as it turns bowls into covered containers, keeps bread fresh without tying up our stock pot, and is a simple way to cover a pan of sheet cake. You can make your own (look for a tutorial online), or buy a few sheets that are made in Vermont by the Bee's Wrap crew.
-I'm curious about #thejarmethod from @brownkids. Has anyone tried it? What did you think?
-Posts on food waste for when storage methods (and planning ahead) fail, here.
-How to make your own cloth produce bags, from Zero Waste Chef.
-Get your berries plastic-free this summer, parts one and two.
What else do you use repurpose into simple food storage? Things I missed?
More posts on going zero waste without buying anything new, here.