To get it straight from the beginning – you should never just throw out plastic food containers. It can take up to 1,000 years for a plastic container to decompose in a landfill. So it’s better to rephrase the question to when to properly dispose of or recycle them.
Assuming that you want to get rid of the containers in an eco-friendly way, there are a few telltale signs that will let you know that it’s time. The reason to dispose of a container may even be seemingly banal, such as you don’t like it anymore.
Nevertheless, it is still a good indicator that the container is probably too old and battered.
The Perfect Time to Go Plastic Container Shopping
Plastic food containers are incredibly convenient but they are not meant to be used forever. Here are a few things that tell you when it’s time for a replacement, so feel free to check them out below.
The container is in its early teens
Old age and repeated use take a toll on the plastic containers. What’s more, the production standards for plastic containers have evolved and become more stringent.
For example, people are now aware that phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA) may seep into the food – something that was not known a decade ago. As a result, most contemporary plastic containers don’t contain either of the substances.
Where’s the lid?
If you received a penny each time you asked this question, you could probably buy a bunch of the best plastic containers you can find. Namely, the plastic container lid is a key component for safely storing food inside. So, if the lid is broken or nowhere to be found, don’t hesitate to take the container to the recycling bin.
It smells fishy
With proper maintenance, a plastic food container shouldn’t have any odor at all. But if it does, the smell is a good indicator that it has outlived its best years. The containers that reek are a no-brainer but you should also discard the ones that give off a rancid air.
Trying to thoroughly clean smelly plastic food containers isn’t worth your effort. Save yourself the trouble and get a new set – there are a bunch of great options at affordable prices online.
Stains and textures
Visible stains that cannot be washed after a cycle or two in the dishwasher mean that the container integrity has been compromised. The stains basically tell you that the plastic has become porous and it can be dangerous since you can’t undo it. There is a possibility for the plastic to leach into your food – but you won’t be able to see it.
Odd textures on plastic food containers are a major no-no as well. This goes double for containers that you use in the microwave. The inside and sometimes even the outside of a container should be perfectly smooth without any weird bumps, groves, or notches. Otherwise, it’s another sign of poor container integrity or melted plastic.
Plastic food containers don’t break or crack easily but if you do manage to damage them, it’s time for the recycling bin right away. A broken container no longer serves its purpose and a cracked one can be damaging to your food. It usually doesn’t matter whether you use the container just for storing food or reheating food in the microwave.
However, it is worth repeating that you might be putting your food and health at risk by microwaving in a damaged container. So, don’t think twice about ditching the damaged container.
How Long Do Plastic Food Containers Last?
There isn’t a single answer that fits all containers. Some brand-name models might promise up to a 10-year life if properly used.
On the other hand, there are plastic containers that you should get rid of right away. Microwave meal trays and takeout food receptacles are a good example. Reusing these containers may be dangerous, even if some people decide to keep the containers for weeks, even months.
In general, dedicated containers for storing food should be good for at least a year. But at first sign of damage and it’s off to a bin.
A Final Note About the Environment
Plastic food containers are ubiquitous, practical, and convenient, but like any other container type, they have a limited lifespan. And by now, you should have a clear understanding of when to throw them out.
But remember, throwing the containers out is not enough. You need to go the extra mile and recycle them. There are even some cool creative ways to repurpose old plastic containers so be sure to check them out.