Last Updated on September 2, 2022 by The Filtery Staff
A lot of lunch boxes and bags are made out of PVC or other types of plastic that contain endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which can cause long-term negative health effects.
Although it’s important to avoid these types of plastic as best you can throughout the different areas of life, it’s even more crucial to do so when it comes to food storage. You don’t want to end up eating these chemicals after they leach into your food!
So in this article, we’re talking about what materials to look for in safe, non-toxic lunch boxes. Then we’ll give you our favorite brands.
- Non-Toxic, PVC-Free Backpacks
- Safe, Plastic-Free Food Storage Containers
- You Non-Toxic Back to School Guide
- Organic Clothing Brands for Babies, Kids, & Tweens
Featured Image Credit: Fluf
This guide contains affiliate links, which means we may earn affiliate commission if you decide to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our material safety standards.
What To Choose? Boxes, Bags, & Bento Boxes
Before you pick out your lunch necessities, you’ll want to consider your personal preferences. Do you want a sturdy lunch box that can take a beating on your morning commute, or will a soft lunch bag suffice? Do you need something you can swing around your arm or throw in another bag? Would you prefer a bento box that you can keep your whole meal in? What size would be best for you and your eating habits?
Choosing non-toxic materials is important, but you should also get something that will fit well into your (or your child’s) lifestyle so that you’ll actually enjoy using it! That’s why we’ve included a variety of different types of boxes and bags below.
Materials to Be Careful Of
Most of the lunch boxes, backpacks, and pencil cases you’ll find at the store are either made from a soft plastic, which often contains PVC and/or phthalates; or hard plastic, which can contain BPA or other bisphenols.
Here are why those materials are problematic:
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is actually one of the most toxic kinds of plastic. In fact, some countries have begun banning the use of PVC, especially in food packaging.
PVC contains chlorine, which creates toxic byproducts called dioxins. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxins “can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.”
Not only that, but PVC often contains toxic additives like lead and phthalates.
Although phthalates are often found in PVC, they can also be in plenty of other types of plastic as well. They’re typically used to make the plastic more flexible. So when you’re shopping for lunch boxes, you’ll want to look for brands that explicitly test for all phthalates.
Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which means they can interfere with one’s natural hormone function and lead to infertility and developmental toxicity. They’re also linked to things like diabetes and asthma, and also may be carcinogenic.
BPA & Other Bisphenols
While softer plastic lunch boxes are more likely to contain phthalates, harder plastic lunch boxes are more likely to contain BPA and other bisphenols. Like phthalates, bisphenols are also endocrine disruptors are linked to a list of health concerns. We recently took a deep dive into BPA and it’s “sister chemicals” like BPS and BPA, so you can read more about that here.
Water/Stain-Resistant Additives (PFAS)
It’s reasonable to want your lunch box to be resistant to water and stains since you might have to deal with spills and you definitely don’t want to end up with a moldy lunch bag.
But a lot of lunch boxes are treated with a DWR (durable water repellant) finish to make them waterproof, which you do NOT want.
DWR is made using PFAS, which have been nick-named “forever chemicals” because they can’t be broken down by our bodies or the environment. PFAS are known toxins and are linked to a wide variety of serious health concerns, including cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, metabolic dysfunction, immune dysfunction, and more. You don’t want this stuff around your food if you can avoid it!
Most synthetic fabrics are inherently water-resistant and relatively easy to clean, and most natural fabrics like organic cotton or linen can be put into the washing machine. Therefore there’s really no reason for these toxicants to be added to our lunch bags. If you want to add a natural and non-toxic water-resistant finish to your lunch bag, you can use this wax bar from Rawganique.
Safer Materials to Look for Instead
Lunch bags made from organic cotton or other natural materials such as hemp is a great choice (as long as they don’t have any PFAS added on top!). Not only are harmful pesticides not used in the growing or processing of these materials, but you also don’t have to worry about the hidden ingredients that often come with plastics, as mentioned above.
Since these materials are not stain-resistant and can’t be wiped clean as easily as plastic can, they may be more susceptible to getting dirty. But the good thing is that most of the time, they’re machine washable! (Just make sure to follow the directions because some of them aren’t meant to go in the dryer.)
Be careful about any lunch bags made from natural fabrics that say they’re stain- or water-resistant/proof. This indicates there may be a toxic layer of PFAS chemicals on top of the fabric.
Stainless steel is a safe food storage material that many people use for soups, sides, and snacks. It’s super durable and can keep your foods hot or cold (with the proper sealing).
Depending on your preferences, you may use a stainless steel storage container within your larger lunch box or bag, or you may use a bento box (like this one, which can hold your entire lunch) all on its own.
Silicone is a plastic-adjacent material that is much safer than other plastics. A lot of people like to use silicone in place of plastic for things like container lids and baggies (like the now-famous Stasher bags!). They’re definitely a great option for kids because they are lightweight, flexible, and won’t break if they’re dropped.
High-quality, food-safe silicone is generally safe at room temp and frozen. We recommend not using silicone for cooking and baking for now, though. Although we need more data, some research suggests that certain kinds of silicone may release endocrine disrupting chemicals at high temperatures (like in the oven).
Sometimes (especially when it comes to kids), plastic is just easier. It’s easier to wipe clean and can be more leak-proof compared to something like organic cotton. And you’re just not likely to find an entire lunch box/bag that’s made from all-silicone.
So if you’re going to go with plastic, some choices are much better than others. In general, plastic product with the resin codes #2, #4, and #5 are the safest. Polyester is definitely better than something like PVC. Additionally, look for brands that use third-party testing to make sure their materials don’t contain phthalates, lead, bisphenols, or other toxicants.
Remember to keep all types of plastic away from the heat whenever possible, though. Heat speeds up the leaching process.
Regardless of which materials you choose for your lunch necessities, make sure that the material that’s actually next to your food is labeled as food-grade. Food grade materials have stricter manufacturing requirements and have to meet certain FDA requirements.
(BUT, just because something is food-safe does NOT automatically mean it’s free from things like phthalates and BPA, and there is very little actual oversight on this issue. A food-grade label is not an end-all, be-all; it’s just another helpful thing to look for.)
Alright, now on to our favorite non-toxic lunch box brands!
Here Are Our Favorite Non-Toxic & Organic Lunch Boxes & Bags (for the Whole Family)
Types: Lunch bags, sandwich & snack bags, backpacks
Best for: Adults, kids, & toddlers
Materials: Organic cotton + RPET lining
Price: $8.95 (snack bag) – $31.95 (lunch bag)
Fluf is one our favorite brands for safe and fun lunch bags & other essentials, as well as backpacks. Some of their designs are minimalistic and elevated (which are great for adults), while other designs are fun and colorful (great for kids). They also have sandwich bags and snack bags that come in a variety of sizes. Some have Velcro and some are zippered. And they’re all fully machine washable!
They use GOTS certified organic cotton and low-impact dyes for the outer fabric. For the lining, they use eco-friendly GRS-certified (Global Recycle Standard) rPET, which meets the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® for safety. This makes the lining water-resistant without any toxic PFAS being added to it.
Their products are regularly tested by third party labs to be free of things like BPA, PVC, PFAS, phthalates, heavy metals, AZO, fire retardants, formaldehyde, and more.
In addition to their strict safety standards, Fluf also has other sustainable and ethical initiatives as well. Everything is ethically made in India where workers are paid a living wage and work under safe conditions. Their team works to reduce plastic as much as possible throughout their entire supply chain, from the product design process to packaging.
Types: Lunch bags, bento boxes, food storage containers
Best for: Kids & adults
Materials: Organic cotton, stainless steel, silicone
Price: $10 (food storage container) – $50 (giant stainless steel lunch box)
ECOlunchbox is a great option because they have a little of everything: lunch bags, food storage containers, stainless steel bento boxes, and even camping plates and little sporks! Their entire line of products is almost completely plastic-free.
Their machine-washable lunch bags are made out for GOTS certified organic cotton and screen-printed with cute sea animals using eco-friendly ink. Some of their food storage containers & bento boxes are 100% food-grade stainless steel, while others include food-safe silicone lids and/or gaskets. They offer storage containers that come in various shapes and sizes (circular vs. rectangular; snap-shut vs. regular lids; etc.), and many of their containers are leak-proof.
ECOlunchbox is also a B Corp certified brand that has various sustainable and ethical initiatives in place throughout their entire supply chain.
Types: Food containers, Lunch “Kits” (with bags), and other accessories
Best for: Adults
Materials: Tritan copolyester, microfiber (both of which are plastics), & silicone
Price: $245 for the full lunch kit (but all parts can be bought separately)
There are several brands popping up that make lunch bags with an elevated aesthetic—they look more like purses. Most of these brands completely lack transparency about their materials, but INKA is the first one I’ve felt okay about. Their food storage containers are made out of Tritan copolyester and their lunch bags are made out of silicone “leather” (which is vegan), plus microfiber on the outside. (No, INKA is not plastic-free!)
As mentioned, INKA’s food storage containers are made out of Tritan, which is a hard plastic and is the material that your food will actually be touching. Although it’s unclear whether or not Tritan is 100% perfect, it’s certainly a better choice than other plastics. Tritan’s manufacturer claims that it is free of all bisphenols as well as any other synthetic estrogenic or androgenic chemicals. It’s made in the USA, too.
The bag itself is made out of silicone on the inside and “microfiber” on the outside. I don’t like seeing the word “microfiber” because it means plastic but it doesn’t tell you what kind of plastic it is. This is not ideal, but at least it’s not on the part of the bag that’s touching your food.
INKA has a lot of selling points in terms of usability. Not only are their bags pretty, but they’re very practical, too. They come with pockets, an interchangeable/detachable long strap, and can be carried either on their own or within another bag. The containers are leak-proof (sealed with a silicone gasket that comes with a lifetime warranty), stackable, and much more stain-resistant than other plastic containers (so your container won’t turn orange after it’s been holding your pasta sauce).
In addition to their lunch bags and containers, INKA also carries things like stainless steel utensils & chopsticks as well as silk-cotton napkins. Their bags come in a lot of different beautiful colors, too.
*All of that being said, I do recommend this brand with some hesitation since the food containers are still made from plastic. I do believe the Tritan copolyester is safer than other kinds of plastic, but I’m always skeptical until there is more data available. Even though INKA says their storage containers are microwave and dishwasher safe, I personally recommend keeping them away from heat to play it safe. You can read more about Tritan here.
Types: Lunch bags, wraps, and snack bags
Best for: Adults & kids
Materials: Organic cotton, linen, wool, natural wax
Price: $9 (bento sandwich bag) – $47 (full-sized insulated organic lunch bag)
Etsy actually carries some great lunch options from various sellers. They have full-sized zippered lunch bags from brands like Simple Ecology and Life Without Plastic (both of which are made with mostly GOTS certified organic cotton), minimalistic waxed organic cotton canvas bags (to replace your standard brown paper sack), bento bags that tie shut (and come in lots of pretty fabric choices), and more.
They also carry other lunch essentials like smaller zippered snack bags made from organic cotton, beeswax wraps, and more. Materials and quality vary widely on Etsy, so just make sure you check the product description before buying, and don’t hesitate to message the seller to ask more questions if you need to.
Types: Lunch boxes & backpacks
Best for: Kids & toddlers
Materials: Organic cotton + RPET lining
Price: $8.95 (snack bag) – $31.95 (lunch bag)
A good option for elementary school kids, Bixbee offers lunch boxes that come in fun designs like unicorns, camo, space odyssey, sparkles, dinosaurs, and other animals.
Even though they’re made from plastic, they are lab tested to be free of toxins like PVC, BPA, phthalates, and lead. The interior lining is made out of PEVA, which is a safer and more eco-friendly alternative to PVC. This makes the lunch box waterproof without having to add any toxins like PFAS to the fabric.
Bixbee is also a Certified B Corp brand that donates school bags and other supplies to non-profit organizations with each purchase. In addition to lunch boxes, they also carry other school essentials like backpacks, pencil cases, and duffle bags.
Types: Insulated lunch bags and backpacks
Best for: Adults & kids
Materials: 600 denier polyester
Milkdot’s lunch bags are made from polyester, but they’re free from PVC, phthalates, lead, and BPA (and tested by a third-party lab).
They come in various colors and patterns and can be a good fit for both grade-school kids and adults. (They even have a little picture frame ID tag for personalization or secret lunch notes, which is a cute extra feature.)
They do use foam insulation, which isn’t great… but at least that part is not touching your food.
More Non-Toxic Lunch Gear
Baggies & Other Storage Necessities
What you choose to store your food in is important. Since endocrine disruptors can leach from the plastic to your food, choosing a non-toxic and plastic-free food storage option is an easy thing you can do that can potentially make a big difference.
We actually have an entire article that’s all about non-toxic food storage, which you can check out here.
To summarize our recommendations specifically for packed lunches:
- Made from silicone, Stasher Bags are a great alternative to plastic Ziploc baggies. Or you can find reusable organic cotton zipper bags on Etsy.
- Although glass storage containers are a great option, they’re very breakable and many schools don’t allow them in the cafeteria. We recommend stainless steel containers, like those from ECOlunchbox or UKonserve.
- Beeswax Wraps are a great alternative to plastic cling wrap and a a great lightweight way of wrapping up sandwiches, fruit, and more.
Here a a few non-toxic (or low-tox) options to throw in your lunchbox and keep things cool:
- Onyx (water inside; stainless steel outside)
- UKonserve (non-toxic sodium polymer inner with a recycled plastic cover)
- SoYoung (water/cellulose gum inner with polyester cover)
For forks and spoons, you’ll want to skip the plastic and go with:
- Bamboo (like To-Go Ware)
- Silicone (like ezpz, for kids)
- Or just use the regular stainless steel flatware from your kitchen!
The best options for napkins are:
- Reusable organic cotton (like Marley’s Monsters or Hearth & Harrow)
- Reusable hemp or linen (like Rawganique or Heron Apparel)
- Unbleached paper towels
We have an entire guide to non-toxic water bottles coming up soon, too, so stay tuned for that! In the meantime, here are some of the brands we recommend:
What About These Lunch Bag Brands?
Here are some more brands you may be wondering about that we can’t really recommend:
Calpak: We don’t recommend this brand. Among other types of plastic, it uses polyethylene, which may leach endocrine disruptors. Some of their bags also come with Prop 65 warning labels, which can mean they contain lead or a variety of other toxicants.
Corkcicle: While their stainless steel bottles and cups are probably fine, we don’t recommend their lunch boxes or other bags. It’s unclear what they’re actually made of and whether or not they’ve been tested for endocrine disruptors or other toxins.
Hydroflask: They say their lunch boxes and bags are BPA & phthalate-free, but it’s unclear what they’re actually made out of (and whether they contain any other bisphenols or endocrine disruptors). Their stainless steel bottles, cups, and jars are a good option, though!
L.L. Bean: Their lunch boxes are probably okay… They say they’re tested safe for lead, phthalates, PVC, and BPA. However, it’s unclear what kind of plastic they’re actually made out of and whether or not they’re free from all bisphenols and endocrine disruptors.
Modern Picnic: This is another brand offering aesthetically-forward lunch bags for professionals. They lack transparency big time, though. Their bags are made from vegan leather (which is most likely plastic, but they don’t tell us what kind) and they don’t say anything about bisphenols, phthalates, testing, etc. If you like the Modern Picnic look, we recommend going with INKA instead.
PlanetBox: Many of their lunchboxes are NOT PFAS-free, so we don’t recommend them.
State: This brand just generally lacks transparency. Their lunch boxes are made from polyester, but there isn’t any other info about testing, additives, etc. *Update: We emailed State to ask for more information about their products and they confirmed that they are NOT PFAS-free.*
(If there are any other brands you’re wondering about, just let us know in the comments below and we’ll look into it!)
So, Which Lunch Box Is Best For You?
By choosing from the non-toxic options listed above, you don’t have to pack yours or your kids’ school lunches with toxic chemicals like PVC, phthalates, BPA, or PFAS!