How I Fixed My Food Waste Problem

A set of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bins finally made my fridge work like it should.

A selection of fruits and vegetables in tidy recycled plastic storage bins

Bradley Hart / The Spruce by iDesign

At Treehugger, we often talk about perfection being the enemy of progress. And I confess: I have been imperfect.

As a vegetable-obsessed home cook who shuns packaged produce, I developed a bit of a food-waste problem thanks to a new, smaller refrigerator that became chronically chaotic. Cloth produce bags and stainless steel containers concealed the contents within. Perishable delicacies constantly sneaked into hidden recesses to die slow deaths. And since it was hard to know what was in there, sometimes I would buy items I already had on hand.

Despite my best intentions, my compost bin was fed a diet of slimy greens, petrified lime halves, and other assorted bits and bobs. Seriously, not my finest hour(s). While I have always had great strategies for using up food scraps, the abyss that was my fridge became my Achilles' heel.

So I did something I never thought I would do: I embraced … plastic? What? I have been advocating for plastic-free kitchens for more than a decade, but I also know that reducing food waste is one of the most important things we can do to help fight climate change. So when our sister site, The Spruce, expanded its line of storage solutions, I was eager to give the food containers a spin.

The Spruce Collection

The first thing that piqued my interest in The Spruce Collection is that the bins are made from 100% rPET (recycled ​​polyethylene terephthalate). Using a proprietary process, iDesign—the Ohio-based housewares company that partnered with The Spruce to create the collection—transforms post-consumer recycled plastic sourced from plastic bottles into the clear, durable plastic used to create the bins. 

In fact, each bin is equivalent to 50 plastic bottles diverted from landfills—or the ocean, or everywhere else that plastic bottles end up. So not only do the bins not require virgin materials, but they also remove plastic from the environment. (The plastic is also BPA-free and safe for storing food.)

The bins come in various shapes and sizes; some have lids, some have movable dividers, and there’s one with a basket insert perfect for berries and anything else that likes a little air circulation.

What I Love About the Bins

A well organized fridge featuring recycled plastic storage bins

Bradley Hart / The Spruce by iDesign

Increased Visibility

The large bins are the same depth as my refrigerator shelves and, thus, effectively work as drawers. So let’s say I have all my herbs in one bin; I can pull it out to easily see everything there, rather than sleuthing for herbs floating around on a shelf or hidden behind other things. (Confession: The inside of my refrigerator looks nothing like the photo above! Mine is a bit more, you know, "maximalist.") Likewise, I have a bin for whole and leftover citrus sections—I can pull that out and use up leftovers first, rather than searching through the fridge or digging through an over-burdened crisper drawer looking for an elusive lemon quarter.

Easier, Less Wasteful Meal Prep

The bins not only function like drawers, but they also act like baskets that you can take out and put on the counter—making meal prep much more efficient. For instance, if I want to make a vegetable dish, I can pull out the vegetable bin, put it on the counter, and see what I have to work with. “Oh! A single green onion and half a red pepper, I can add that to the soup!”

Similarly, we have one bin with breakfast ingredients—coconut yogurt, fresh berries, nuts, dried fruit, etc.—and we just pull out the bin and have an instant breakfast bar on the counter. I love the idea of meal-focused bins for items one regularly makes; think sandwich supplies for quicker school lunches or salad ingredients for easy-to-assemble salads.

Basic Organization

Another way the containers have improved my refrigerator is with their smart design. They are modular, and different sizes can be mixed and matched to suit individual needs. One of the most successful strategies for reducing clutter is to have a place for everything; the bins can easily serve that purpose. And stackability means vertical space in the fridge can also be used more efficiently— especially relevant for anyone choosing smaller appliances.

They are also designed to keep produce fresh and feature small flourishes like integrated notches to prevent excess moisture and to keep cut produce fresh.

Simplified Refrigerator Cleaning

This one’s a bonus that doesn’t have to do with food waste: Using the containers makes cleaning out the refrigerator so very easy. Generally, one would stand with the door open (wasting all that energy!) to go through a horde of food items and then clean the shelves and walls. With the bins, one simply removes the bins, closes the door, empties the bins on the counter, and cleans them in the sink. The fridge shelves and walls stay clean—as in, no more puddles of leaked mystery-sticky stuff to scrape off the shelves. Dry the bins, sort the food as you put it back in the bins, and return the bins to the fridge. 

About the Plastic

To reiterate, I generally wouldn't advocate for buying plastic things—there is almost always a better alternative. But in a way, this is more like buying a refrigerator that had extra drawers, but even better since these “drawers” are useful independent from the appliance and are durable enough to serve future refrigerators. They remove single-use plastic from the waste stream, and I feel confident I will use them for years to come. And at the end of their lives (which I can’t even really imagine), the rPET bins can be recycled again.

The rPET bins only come in sets, which may not match a shopper’s needs perfectly. Being able to buy single pieces or mix and match a custom set would ensure that people aren’t ending up with containers they don’t need. However, nobody said these couldn’t be used outside of a fridge. And in fact, they could help organize any number of cluttered spots in a home. They are also only available on Amazon, which is great for the many people who rely on Amazon, but may not be an attractive choice for anyone avoiding the retailer.

That said, it should be noted The Spruce does sell individual pieces at Lowe's. Those containers are not 100% rPET … yet. iDesign's goal is to be using rPET across all of their lines by 2025.

Prices start at $29 per set—visit Amazon to see the full range of The Spruce Collections products.