lunch containers with produce inside

The Best Sustainable Lunch Containers for Back-to-School

Jane Marsh - September 13, 2023

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During the back-to-school season, parents want to hold onto their free time and children want to get brand-new supplies. Sustainable lunch containers are the solution to both of these issues — they’re easy to use, nice to look at, and healthy to eat out of.  

What to Look for in Sustainable Lunch Containers

Many parents get so excited about getting ahold of sustainable containers that they forget the basics. Plenty of fantastic options exist, so you can take your time and ensure the one you get suits your needs. 

Here are the top things to look for in sustainable lunch containers:

  • Leakproof: Non-leakproof lunch containers can spill in backpacks or all over your outfit. It’s better to stay on the safe — less messy — side when kids are involved. 
  • Temperature controlled: Get containers that hold the food’s temperature until lunchtime. Look for words like “insulated” or “thermal” to find some.
  • Dishwasher safe: Although you don’t need dishwasher-safe containers, they’re a real life-saver during busy weeks. Pure bamboo or biodegradable versions are great, but they’re not dishwasher-safe.
  • Plastic-Free: You should avoid plastic — even if it is BPA-free — because it’s not good for the health of the environment or your family. Since some containers claim to be sustainable but use plastic lids, cuffs, or linings, you should always double-check.
  • Microwavable: Microwavable containers open up a lot of possibilities lunch-wise. You won’t have to limit yourself to sandwiches or salads if you can heat up your food at lunch.
  • Freezer safe: Although a freezer-safe container isn’t necessary, it’s super helpful for parents who prep lunches in advance. Some eco-friendly materials don’t hold up well in cold conditions, so make sure you get the right one if you want this perk.

Although it can be tricky to find a container with all of these features, it’s possible. Lots of sustainable options work just as well — if not better — than the traditional plastic kinds. 

What You Need to Know About Container Materials

It’s important to know which materials are genuinely sustainable so you can make an informed decision when getting lunch containers. Marketing words are often just greenwashing attempts to make a product seem more eco-friendly than it is. For example, “reusable” sounds great, but it’s very misleading — you can reuse plastic, yet it damages the environment.

  1. Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is ideal because it insulates well and is good for the environment. It’s also very durable, perfect if you send lunches off with younger kids who tend to drop things. However, metal isn’t microwave-safe, so you can’t heat it up. 

  1. Beeswax

If you want to replace plastic baggies, you can use beeswax-infused cloth since it’s eco-friendly. You can get products with 100% cotton to be more sustainable. While they don’t hold liquid as well as the traditional versions, they’re much safer to eat out of and better for the planet.

Biodegradable containers use all-natural materials like egg yolk, walnut, gelatin, or soy. Although they’re mainly meant for food storage, you can use food-safe versions online. Most look like plastic and come in the shape of baggies.

  1. Glass

Glass is a classic sustainable choice for a reason. Most are dishwasher, fridge, and microwave-safe, which is ideal during the back-to-school season. You don’t even need to get something special since most stores carry glass food storage containers.

  1. Bamboo

Bamboo is fantastic because it’s affordable. Plus, farmers don’t use pesticides or fertilizers on it since it grows so rapidly. Its environmental impact is minor, making it one of the most sustainable options.

  1. Silicone

As we mentioned earlier, it’s better to avoid plastic, even if it’s BPA-free. After all, there are too many excellent sustainable alternatives. Most people think silicone is the next best thing to plastic since it has a similar feel, but it’s not actually sustainable. 

Since silicone is made using fossil fuels and won’t break down for centuries, it’s unsustainable. In fact, it takes over 500 years to degrade in natural settings, potentially even more in a landfill. It’s better to use it over plastic, but you should know that it isn’t drastically better. Many sustainable lunch containers use it for lids, leakproof seals or grips, so you should be aware.

Which Sustainable Container Brands Are Best?

The best brands use eco-friendly materials and are easy to use. Although it’s ultimately up to you, these are our picks for some of the greatest back-to-school sustainable lunch containers on the market.

  1. Ekobo 

Their lunch container prices range from $13 to $49, depending on what size and type you get. It has many square stainless steel options perfect for keeping food at the right temperature until lunchtime. Some of its other products contain eco-friendly materials like bamboo fiber.

Everything from the bento boxes to the utensils is colorful and fun, perfect for any kid returning to school. Plus, most options are microwave and dishwasher-safe, making it easier for you to prep and clean up. 

  1. Hydro Flask  

Hydro Flask is one of the best brands to get lunch containers from because they’re regulated and have lots of great reviews. Consider this brand if you want to keep drinks or soups at the perfect temperature all day. Their bottle prices range from $29 to $125.

Generally, Hydro Flask thermoses are sustainable because they contain stainless steel. However, you should know the lids have thermoplastics in them. Although they’re BPA-free and FDA-approved, it’s not the ideal material choice. 

Luckily, you can replace them with stainless steel versions from various online sellers. Since you drink directly from the plastic part, switching it out is a good approach for peace of mind. Plus, Hydro Flask is among the best environmentally-friendly big brands out there, so it’s good to support them.

  1. PlanetBox

PlanetBox is great because you get a little bit of everything. Their sustainable lunch containers cost anywhere from $7 to $62 depending on what material and style you want. Their attached hinge-lid style is perfect for kids who always misplace parts of their lunch containers, while the reusable snack baggies are great for parents on the go. 

You can throw most of these containers right in the freezer, microwave, or dishwasher. In a review, one parent says she enjoys how they’re dishwasher-safe since it makes it easier to clean up after her three-year-old daughter. 

  1. BeeBagz

BeeBagz provides reusable beeswax baggies as an alternative to plastic bags. They even have a zero-waste collection for especially eco-conscious parents. Their product prices range from $6 to $27 depending on if you get cotton bags, can covers, or wax wraps. 

The beeswax helps keep food fresh throughout the day, which is terrific since most similar products on the market use plastics or silicone. Plus, once they lose their coating, you can compost them or use them as kindling. These wraps are one of the most sustainable options for alternatives to plastic baggies. 

Start the Sustainable School Year

Sustainable lunch containers are ideal for the back-to-school season because they ensure a healthy mindset from day one. Now that you know what to look for, you can find the best ones for your family.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.