Glass vs Plastic Containers. What’s Best For You and Your Food?

When you open your container / plastics draw what do you see inside? Slightly stained, cloudy plastic containers that appeared warped from excessive microwave use? An abundance of lids without a home? Or do you see a heap of glass containers that look nice but don’t stack too well?

When deciding whether to buy glass or plastic containers to store and transport your food you might want to consider the following; longevity, price, weight, spill potential, smells and stains, and also the safety considerations when heating.

As an avid lover of leftovers and a full-time shift worker, containers are a huge part of my every day. Take a look through this post as we explore the pros and cons of plastic vs glass containers. My hope is by the end of this post you’ve found the motivation to clean up your kitchen drawers and create some much-needed order.

Glass vs Plastic: Pros and Cons

Stain Easily?NoYes
Can Become smelly?NoYes
Easily breakable?YesNo
Safely heated?Yes*No
Can go into the oven?Yes (most brands)No
Recyclable? YesNo
Hold their shape?YesNot always
Child Friendly? NoYes
Are they stackable?Not alwaysYes
* some plastic brands can be safely heated in the microwave

The remainder of this article will dive deeper into the above points and further explain why you could consider choosing one type over the other.

Glass Containers Won’t Stain

If you like curry, pumpkin soup or ‘spag bowl’ (spaghetti) as we call it back in Australia, you’re more then likely going to have a few stained containers in your draw.

Traditional methods like hot water, elbow grease and dish soap don’t seem to stand a chance against these stubborn stains. However, using home remedies consisting of lemon, baking soda, white vinegar and even denture tablets may work wonders in removing the stubborn stains from plastic. Be sure to try these methods if you’re becoming frustrated.

But for those who think these tricks are all too hard, glass containers will be your best friend. They won’t stain or leave that greasy, oily feeling even after cleaning and will always look brand new.

Plastic Containers Are Much Lighter (And Easier to Transport)

While the weight of your food containers may not matter a whole lot if they are not leaving the house, for those bringing their meals to and from work everyday – it can be a pain point.

Lugging around extra weight in your bag whilst on the train, tram or even your bike can make for a very uncomfortable commute. Using a glass container, particularly if your food is frozen, will add significant weight to your bag and may not be your best option.

Whereas plastic is a much lighter option and could be the more favorable here, particularly those who are needing to transport multiple meals to the office.

Glass Containers Cost More But They May Last Longer

On the surface, plastic containers do appear much cheaper in comparison to glass containers, though lifetime durability plays a part here. With care, your glass container could last a lot longer whereas plastic may only last a few years if you’re lucky.

Staining, warping, cracking and issues with the lid no longer fitting tightly are some of the reasons why my containers have sadly ended up in the trash.

Let me be clear though, I am not saying that all plastic containers are cheap. Absolutely not. But what I am saying is you can buy some very reasonably priced plastic containers which will do the job for a while whilst it will be tricky finding the same cheaper priced glass alternative.

Purchasing glass containers needs to be viewed as a long term investment. Now we have started the glass trend in our house, there is no longer doubt when spending a few extra dollars.

Plastic Containers Can Smell

This freaks me out the most! Don’t you love smelling the week-old curry in your container while trying to enjoy your morning cereal? If the thought of that makes you want to puke, say hello to glass containers.

While I might be being a little dramatic here, glass containers are nonporous and impermeable, meaning there are no interactions between the glass and the food inside.

In defense of the plastic container, the smells will probably only occur after a longer period of time. If you’ve eaten foods such as spaghetti, curry and pumpkin soups without thorough cleaning you may be in a for a smelly surprise the next time you use that container.

Glass Containers Can (and Will) Break Easily When Dropped

The fragility of your containers needs some consideration too. Are you a clumsy person who is always in a hurry? Plastic containers may be the best choice for you as they are a little kinder when dropped. Glass on the other hand is not so forgiving.

On a positive note about glass, it can be recycled if dropped.

You might read about “anti break glass” containers online and in store. While this may be true, when compared to plastic glass it’s still more fragile.

Plastic Containers are Not Always Safely Heated

Plastics have been a hot topic in recent times due to the threat of chemicals leaking or migrating into our food once heated, potentially causing life-threatening cancers and fertility issues.Opens in a new tab.

Such chemicals are Phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA), which are added to clear and harden plastic, whilst keeping it soft and flexible.

Despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducting extensive research, closely monitoring these chemicals, it seems ambiguity remains of their impact. According to the Food NetworkOpens in a new tab.,

steer clear of plastic with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene) and 7 (bisphenols) except for those that are marked as “biobased” or “greenware.”

the AAP cautionsOpens in a new tab.

The Food Network goes on to say that if we need to heat our food, we should transfer it into a microwave-safe bowl or glass container rather than zapping our plastic container, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

I was wondering about the microwave-safe “domes” too. Whilst they are okay, research says we should be usingOpens in a new tab. wax paper, parchment paper, a white paper towel or even a ceramic plate.

If you don’t know about wax paper, check out these funky designed ones on Amazon (pictured below) to spice up your kitchen and you do your bit for the environment. I absolutely love my set.

If you’re persisting with plastics rather than glass, here are a few things to consider when heating:

Look for a ‘microwave safe’ label on your plastic container before heating.

You won’t find the label on your take away containers, plastic tubs which hold butter, margarine and cream cheese as they are not microwave-safe. We recommend staying clear of these if using to heat your meal.

If you’ve ever used cling wrap to preserve freshness in your food and limit causing a mess in the microwave, consider an alternative method.

Upon heating, cling wrap has the potential to leak chemicals into your food and you don’t want that. Alternatives as I mentioned are wax paper, kitchen parchment paper, paper towels or silicone covers like the Set of 5 Microwave Food CoversOpens in a new tab. which fit over a plate or bowl beautifully. 

Scratched, tired or cracked containers, which have been repetitively microwaved, may leak out even more plasticizers so consider throwing these out altogether.

Most Glass Containers Can Go Into The Oven Safety.

Generally, most glass containers are oven-safe if taken from room temperature and put in a moderate-temperature, preheated oven.

If you take your frozen glass container and place it inside a hot oven, it will likely smash. Avoid temperature shocks. Slow and steady is key…

Before placing any glass in the oven I recommend reading the user manual or even contact the manufacturer to ensure you are safely heating your food with minimal risk.

Glass Containers Are 100% Recyclable

Did you know a glass container can go from a recycling bin to a store shelf in as little as 30 days? Sounds simple but the process is actually quite involved which you can read about here.Opens in a new tab.

Glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled over and over again to create new glass without loss in quality or integrity.

Plastic, on the other hand, cannot be broken down to make more plastic bottles in a simple process. Due to the thin, porous nature of plastics, they become a lower quality plastic as they go through the recycling process.

Interestingly, according to the Recycling Coalition of UtahOpens in a new tab.,

Only about 25% of the plastic produced in the U.S. is recycled. If we recycled the other 75% we could save 1 billion gallons of oil and 44 million cubic yards of landfill space annually.

Whilst talking about the economic costs, glass is much more expensive in relation to plastic due to its weight and fragility and therefore respective freight costs. When you pick up a glass container compared to a plastic container it may not seem like much but just imagine doing this same exercise in bulk.

Plastic, on the other hand, stands as the economic and often eco-friendly option as it’s lightweight and durable. It requires less oil and gas in transportation costs making it much more suitable for transportation than glass.

Why Glass Containers Are the Clear Winner

Plastic Containers Can Become Warped

…whilst glass containers tend to hold their shape.

You can avoid the frustration of stubborn fitting plastic lids and the strange warping activity that occurs when heating your plastic container by simply using glass.

Glass will retain its shape forever unless you are little rough and give it cracks or chips.

I should mention some glass containers have plastic or silicone type lids which may pose a problem down the track if not taken care of. Read the care instructions of your containers before putting them in the dishwasher or microwave.

Plastic Containers are Child Friendly

Glass containers are not recommended for kids’ lunch boxes for obvious reasons. Plastic is probably the direction you should go for younger kids lunch boxes as they are unlikely to need to heat up any food.

However, I did find these Glass Baby Food Storage ContainersOpens in a new tab. on Amazon which I never knew existed. They may work well within your family to lessen the environmental effects of using plastics.

I have also been having a snoop around Amazon and found the following children’s lunch box which may offer good alternatives to glass. Click the image to see what’s available.

Glass Improves Transparency and Reduction in Food Waste

Forget about opening and closing all the containers in your freezer trying to figure out what’s inside to suit your taste.

Glass is clear, so you can adequately pack your lunchbox with the right silverware and condiment to match your meal.

Glass containers also reduce food waste because you know what’s inside. Nobody wants an undesirable surprise at 3am when you were hoping for your favorite dish.

Glass Containers Don’t Easily Stack

Glass containers don’t always fit nicely inside one another and cannot be collapsible like these BPA free, niffy plastic ones – Thin Bins Collapsible ContainersOpens in a new tab..

But in my experience, there is less chance of you losing a lid because you will want to store them on top of each other to save space. The lid adds the stability you need.

I recently found this [10-Pack] Glass Food Storage ContainersOpens in a new tab. on Amazon which come in a variety of fun colours and appear to sit nicely on top of each other.

On the other hand, plastic can do all kinds of space saving things. I found these nifty collapsible containers (pictured) which are (apparently) microwave and freezer safe on Amazon recently and they are worth a look.

[VIDEO] – If you are more of a video watcher, this clip provides a good look at the glass vs plastic battle.

Our Glass Container Recommendations

Look for those which snap shut on all four sides as they are especially effective at keeping food fresh and have less chance of spillage

Our Best Pick: 

Other contenders:

Great for stacking – Flatter in nature making it much easier to stack and less time needed to heat when in a rush – SIMPLYESTA Glass Food Storage ContainersOpens in a new tab.

Glass container with Bamboo lids – Stylish, practical and great for the environment. Check it out here on Amazon.Opens in a new tab.

Lids – We recommend shifting away from cling wrap and using silicone lids instead as they are better for your health and also the environment. We personally use this Silicone Bowl Lids, Reusable Suction Seal variety. Despite not being a huge fan of the color, the suction works really well and is very effective. Make sure you hand wash these lids for longer durability.

Other Food Transport Options:

If neither glass nor plastic floats your boat, this S’well stainless steel food bowel may be a great option. I found it on Amazon and on the product page it shows a great video that explains better than I could what this product is all about. Take a look here.Opens in a new tab.

Summary: Glass vs Plastic Containers. What’s Best For You and Your Food?

As you can see, depending on your work and life situation, there may be some days where one option may be more appropriate over the other.

Though using glass containers can be endlessly recycled, they will cost more to purchase and are heavier than plastic. Whereas plastics may stain and warp over time due to heating but are much safer for kids.

The choice is essentially yours, but I can say glass is now my preferred option. What”s your first choice?


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Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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