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Cheap vs expensive plastic food containers

Is it worth spending more money on these everyday items, or can you get away with using the cheapies?

expensive vs cheap plastic containers
Last updated: 30 July 2021

We all know the horror of the plastic container cupboard: the towering piles of boxes that don't nest inside one another; the random lid that doesn't match anything but is being kept just in case; that one container that always falls on your head when you open the door. 

If you've had enough and decided to clean up your plastics cupboard once and for all, you're probably going to want to buy matching sets from one particular brand or retailer. 

In our plastic food containers test, Tupperware products topped the class, coming well ahead of all other products. But is it worth going all out and buying an expensive brand like Tupperware, or will a Kmart cheapie do the job just as well? 

Tupperware vs Kmart

To help you decide whether or not to splurge on Tupperware, we've pitted it against a budget brand, Kmart, to show you how they both performed in our test. 

Both containers are microwave-, freezer- and dishwasher-safe, but the Tupperware container is nearly nine times more expensive. Here's how they stack up.

tupperware heatn eat rectangle 6203a 3

Tupperware Heat'n Eat Rectangle

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 94%
  • Price: $31

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Very good ease of use
  • 100% leakproof and airtight
  • Perfect score on odour and stain test
  • Comes with a "lifetime warranty" (see below for more information)
  • Has a steam vent for use when microwaving

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Generally only available through a Tupperware "consultant"
  • Lifetime warranty may not be as good as it used to be

Read the full Tupperware Heat'n Eat review

kmart anko rectangle clip food container

Kmart Anko Rectangle Clip Food Container

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 82%
  • Price: $3.50

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Very good performance
  • Easy to replace
  • Has four clips on the lid
  • Has a removable silicone gasket

Cons

  • Not as durable as Tupperware
  • Doesn't have a steam release vent
  • Only scored 40% on odours and stains test
  • Scored 68% for ease of use
  • No warranty or guarantee

Read the full Kmart Anko rectangle clip review

The verdict

Whether the pros outweigh the cons really depends on what's important to you. 

Sure, the Kmart containers are cheap so if they break they don't cost much to replace – but what about the cost to the environment? (Check with your local council before you throw them in the recycling bin – not all rigid plastics can be recycled.) Perhaps you can make a difference by buying eco-friendly products with all the money you'll save from not buying Tupperware. 

If the Kmart containers break they don't cost much to replace – but what about the cost to the environment?

It might be hard to justify spending the money on Tupperware products, and the prices could be well out of reach for many Australians. But since the products are so durable, you may only have to buy one set of plastic food containers over your lifetime. (Just make sure you're across changes to Tupperware's warranty process – see below.)

So, if you're on a budget but still want good performance, the Kmart products are a winner. If you've got the cash to splash, you're committed to reducing your environmental footprint and don't mind buying through a consultant, then Tupperware is a good investment. 

What to look for when buying plastic food containers

Potential use

"I think the most important thing to remember when buying plastic containers is to think about how you'll use them – are they for the fridge, cupboard, microwave or freezer?" says CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair. 

"I look for microwave and freezer safe as that's where they end up most of the time. The lids should be a softer plastic so they are easy to remove and seal. Buy a few different sizes of your favourite brand so they accommodate different size portions of food."

Think about how you'll use plastic containers – are they for the fridge, cupboard, microwave or freezer?

Fiona Mair, CHOICE kitchen expert

Here are Fiona's tips for using plastic food containers:

  • Any stains can be removed by rubbing a little lemon juice on the surface.
  • Get yourself a marker suitable for plastic to label and date each container when storing foods in the freezer, so you always know what it is.
  • Dry the containers well before storing. 
  • I like to store mine with the lids on as I hate searching for the matching lid. (But bear in mind that this takes up more room than nesting them.)

Design

A plastic food container's design is more important than its pricetag, says Adrian Lini, one of CHOICE's expert testers. 

"Other than Tupperware, the best scoring containers in our test had a rubber seal around the lid and the locking handles on top of the lid," he says.

 The best scoring containers had a rubber seal around the lid and the locking handles on top of the lid

Adrian Lini, CHOICE expert tester

"The poorer scoring models have one or more of the following: no rubber seal, no locking handles, or locking handles on the body of the container instead of the lid.

"These designs struggled the most in our leakproof tests and airtight tests, so they'll be much more likely to spill in your bag, or allow food to degrade faster in the fridge or cupboard."

Durability

If you're concerned about the longevity of your plastic containers, Tupperware certainly has a reputation for durability. 

"An ordinary plastic container can last for a very long time; a Tupperware container can last for probably three lifetimes," says Matthew Tung, another CHOICE expert tester. 

"My mother is still using Tupperware she bought over 30 years ago and from the looks of it she'll be able to pass it down to my daughter and she'll be able to use it for years.

"I can't say I fully recommend it given how expensive and difficult it is to buy one, but if you have extra to spend then it's certainly worth considering."

Still confused? Check our plastic food containers buying guide for in-depth tips on which features you should look for, storage tips and plastic container safety. And you can join our CHOICE Community members in discussing all things plastic container storage and use

Which plastic containers are the most durable?

Check out how CHOICE tests plastic containers for durability. 

How we test plastic food containers

Our experts put plastic containers through their paces to see which ones are worth buying and which ones you should leave on the shelf. We test to see how airtight and leakproof they are, whether they stain or warp, and how strong the lid is. 

Of these, the most fun is the durability test. (Watch the video above.) 

Freezing 500mL of water in each plastic container, we then drop them from bench height onto a hard floor to see which ones are up to the task of keeping your food contained day in, day out. It's quite revealing: we see some spectacular explosions and some impressive feats of strength.

Only three containers of the 15 we tested survived this challenge

Only three containers of the 15 we tested survived this challenge. Two were from Tupperware and the third was from Sistema. There's a considerable price difference between them, though: the Sistema costs $10 for a one-litre container; the two Tupperware containers cost at least twice that. (One is $31 and the other $53 for a set of two.)

So what exactly does the extra money buy you? Well, the Sistema container scored 82% overall, while the Tupperware containers scored 94 and 95%. The Sistema was marked down for its lid, which our testers found difficult to open and close. They're all equally leak proof but the Tupperware containers had the edge in terms of airtightness. And then there's the Tupperware lifetime warranty. (See below to find out whether it's as good as it sounds.)

Once again, your finances and commitment to the environment will probably dictate which product is best for you. Tupperware products consistently outperformed other brands in our tests, but the cost may be prohibitive for some. If you can't justify the expense, choose one of the other top performers from our plastic food containers review

The Tupperware lifetime warranty

In the past, people justified paying the higher price for Tupperware because of its durability and lifetime warranty. Tupperware's durability has remained unchanged – we've all heard stories about Tupperware that's 30+ years old – but unfortunately it seems the lifetime warranty isn't quite what it used to be. 

The Tupperware website says that the company has "changed [its] warranty process to provide [its] customers with a faster, more efficient and a better overall experience when making a warranty claim", but assures customers that the Lifetime Warranty itself has not changed. 

Tupperware now charges a $3.95 processing fee, plus a $9.95 delivery fee for replacement products or parts. 

While this might not seem unreasonable, long-time CHOICE subscriber Samantha told us that when she went to claim on Tupperware's Lifetime Warranty she found that these fees are charged per item, and that rather than directly replacing the item, Tupperware provides a voucher to spend on the website – one voucher per product to be replaced. 

One disgruntled customer has started an online petition

"However, you can only use one voucher per purchase. So if you return four items you must make four individual purchases and pay for 4x the delivery cost. If you are lucky, the vouchers will cover delivery. Hardly a replacement warranty!" she says. 

"The replacement warranty was the main reason I've bought Tupperware over the past 30 years. I won't be buying any more."

These changes have angered Tupperware fans to the point that one disgruntled customer has started an online petition urging Tupperware to reconsider the changes to its Lifetime Warranty

And customers are venting their frustrations on Tupperware Australia's Facebook page. "Their new policy is quite rubbish, isn't it?" says one person. "So disappointed with its new returns policy," says another. "Knocked back on a replacement because I didn't keep a receipt from years ago! I am very disappointed with Tupperware at the moment."

One CHOICE Community member said of Tupperware, "Having to pay to return a piece invalidates a 'lifetime warranty' ... For the true lifetime warranty and service, the premium price seemed worth it, but not without it."

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE