I’ve owned quite many lunchboxes in the past few years. Plastic? First on the list. Glass? Silicone? Stainless steel? Owned them all.
I’ve even had one made of cardboard, but that’s something I’d prefer not to talk about.
So, if you want to know the materials of lunch boxes, they’re either made of plastic, silicone, glass, or stainless steel. Each material has its advantages, but plastic boxes are the most common on the market for reasons we’ll discuss later in the article.
After trying most of the available materials for lunch boxes, there are some facts I’d like to shed the spotlight on. Read on to know whether plastic lunch boxes are worth the hype!
Lunch boxes are either made of stainless steel, plastic, or glass. They have different insulative abilities, different manufacturing processes, and their prices vary. Here’s an overview of each material.
Put stainless steel in a competition with any material for any product, and it’ll probably come out a winner. It’s hard to beat a material that doesn’t break, corrode, or harm the environment. So it’s not hard to see why lunch box manufacturers have been focusing on stainless steel for quite some years now.
For one, it’s eco-friendly because it’s recyclable. Besides, according to Forbes, Sweden is already on the road towards making fossil fuel-free stainless steel. The alternative manufacturing process will supposedly cut the industry’s carbon emissions significantly.
But these functions aren’t directly affecting you as a user. Buyers mostly prefer stainless steel because of its exceptional durability. It resists oxidation, so it doesn’t rust or show signs of corrosion.
I owned a stainless steel box once, and it outlived most of the others I bought after it.
Another advantage of stainless steel is that it doesn’t affect your food in any way. It doesn’t change its taste, nor does it release toxins into it.
Most lunch boxes are made of Type 304 stainless steel because it’s food-grade. Meaning, it’s safe because it doesn’t interact with any food components.
There are two common Type 304 stainless steel variations: 18/8 and 18/10. The numbers refer to the percent of chromium and nickel, respectively. More nickel means better corrosion resistance and more shine, so the 18/10 supposedly resists oxidation better than 18/8.
There’s an 18/0 variant, but it’s hardly used for food containers because it doesn’t resist corrosion.
Plastic is the most common material for lunch boxes, and it’s not hard to see why. To begin with, it’s the most affordable material out of the three on my list. Not only that, but it’s also lighter, making it more convenient to use for something you have to carry every day.
Comparing it with glass, it outlives it because it won’t shatter if you happen to drop it. And to top it off, silicone boxes are sometimes collapsible, accounting for easy storage and transportation.
But enough talking about the advantages, and let’s see why many people, including me, would prefer other materials.
For starters, there’s the elephant in the room: carbon footprint.
It’s no news that plastic is harmful to the environment. It takes hundreds of years to decompose, and all the other ways to get rid of it are equally dangerous. Burning it releases toxic fumes into the air, and leaving it to decompose in the soil releases toxins into the ground.
On top of that, plastic isn’t 100% safe for food containers, especially if the food is hot.
Many users ignore these disadvantages because plastic is affordable and durable, but that doesn’t deny that they’re true.
Yes, some plastic variants are safe for food. For example, plastic Tritan is common for food containers because it’s free of BPA and bisphenol compounds in general.
BPA is known for its anti-androgen effects on the human body. It affects many organs and tissues, leading to some setbacks in the immune system.
Plastic Tritan is manufactured without it, so it’s safe for food containers. Some scientists even claim that Tritan is a medical-grade plastic, but that’s up for the experts to decide.
Generally, manufacturers use plastic Tritan because it has all of the plastic’s advantages without its disadvantages. It’s lightweight and durable, but it’s not toxic.
Glass may be better than plastic and stainless steel for obvious reasons, but it’s less common than both—also for obvious reasons.
Let’s start with why glass is better. For starters, it’s the most durable out of the three—that’s unless you break it.
It won’t rust, corrode, warp, or discolor after a while. So, it’s virtually immortal.
Glass is also 100% safe. It’s naturally free of any toxins, so it’s safe for food containers. Even better, it’s safe for microwaves, which is more than I can say about stainless steel. It doesn’t warp or change textures under any circumstances.
Lastly, glass is eco-friendly. It’s 100% recyclable, meaning you can recycle it endless times without changing anything about its quality.
Moving on to why glass isn’t common for lunchboxes, I’ll start with the most prominent issue: glass is highly breakable. You don’t even have to make an effort to break it.
There’s a high chance your lunch box will end up shattered into endless pieces if you don’t take enough care of it.
We all tend to throw our lunch boxes around and slam our bags on the ground, so getting a glass box seems like an unwise decision.
There’s also the fact that glass is heavy. No one needs to add a couple of pounds to their daily bags, so lighter materials are obviously better.
There are multiple variants of plastic used in lunchboxes. The most common one is polypropylene (PP).
Manufacturers mainly use polypropylene for the box and its lid.
Affordable boxes will be entirely made of polypropylene, but it’s harder to recycle than most types of plastic. Hence why many users may not prefer it.
Nevertheless, polypropylene is highly convenient for lunch boxes because it’s thermoplastic, so it can endure high temperatures.
While propylene is convenient for lunch boxes, it’s not insulative. When manufacturers want to insulate the boxes, they include an outer layer of nylon, vinyl, or polyester. These materials are chosen because they’re poor heat conductors. They’ll trap the heat inside instead of letting it escape as metals do.
Insulated lunch boxes also often have vinyl or aluminum interiors because they’re water-resistant. So, they’ll keep your food fresh without letting it go moist.
Some manufacturers go the extra mile and include a layer of polyurethane or any insulating foam in the middle. This serves to trap the heat inside even better.
Well, that mostly depends on you. In my opinion, stainless steel is the best material out of the ones I mentioned. However, you can choose another material according to your preference.
I prefer stainless steel because it’s highly durable, and I won’t have to replace the box soon. It’s also safe for food, easy to clean, and lightweight.
If I could change one thing about it, I’d definitely want it to be microwave-safe. But that’s not enough reason not to buy it.
Lunch boxes are either made of stainless steel, plastic, or glass. The three materials have their advantages, so the choice depends on your preference.
For example, if microwave safety is an issue for you, you may prefer plastic instead of stainless steel. If you’re used to heating your lunch using the microwave at your workplace, stainless steel will be bothersome.
On the other hand, if lightweight is your main priority, you’d go for silicone because it’s the lightest of all. Most silicone boxes are also collapsible, which is a bonus for easy storage.
In the end, the choice really depends on your priorities. If you want my opinion, stainless steel is the material with the most benefits for me.
- The Guardian: Are plastic containers safe for our food?
- Forbes: How Sweden Delivered The World’s First Fossil Fuel-Free Steel
- Metal Supermarkets: The Difference Between 304 and 316 Stainless Steel
As the founder of Container FAQs, my goal is to provide readers with in-depth information on the containers used in daily life and related subjects. Don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have any suggestions for articles you would like to see on my blog.