Cling Wrap Alternatives   Leave a comment

At the beginning of the summer there was a comment asking about cling wrap alternatives, and I wasn’t able to give a very good response at the time. It’s been processing in the back of my mind throughout all of the goings-on this summer and I’m finally going to take a stab at posting a better response. There were two main reasons why the question was difficult for me to answer. The first was that it has been so long since I regularly used any cling wrap that I couldn’t remember how I transitioned, and the second was that I have unanswered questions myself when it comes to some of the alternatives.

Personally, my original reason for avoiding plastic wrap was waste reduction. Plastic wrap is in the category of “single use” products since it is nigh impossible to re-use most plastic wrap, and as a result there is a ton of waste products to consider. The tip of the iceberg is the little wad of plastic that fits in the palm of your hand. Then there’s the box, cutting strip, and tube. Don’t forget about the shipping container from the factory to the distributor to the retailer. Or the trimmings in the factory during the manufacture of the plastic, box, cutting strip, and tube. And then there’s all the waste that occurs during the extraction and refinement of the raw materials. Oh, and all of the energy and water required for this whole process. See what I mean about the actual plastic wrap being the tip of the iceberg?

A few years ago I also became concerned about the potential for chemical leaching from plastic wrap. Some plastic wraps, including nearly all food-service wraps, are made of PVC, the “toxic plastic”. I understand that most of the plastic wraps sitting on grocery store shelves are no longer made from PVC, but even if they are made from “safer” plastics I’m not completely comfortable. Try this: go to the website for your brand of plastic wrap (for this exercise I went to the Glad website, but I’m guessing any brand will have almost the same language). Find the FAQs or information page about the cling wrap. It’ll say “blah blah… no PVC, plasticizers, phthalates or BPA… blah blah… made of polyethylene… blah blah… “The only additives are proprietary cling agents used at low concentrations which are FDA compliant”. Yeah, like I’m going to trust the FDA or a large conventional company. Have these “cling agents” been tested extensively with regards to human health concerns? Considering how few new chemicals have been tested, my guess is no, and therefore I’d prefer to avoid exposure rather than find out later that there was indeed a problem.

Here’s my list of alternatives, roughly ranked in the order of my increased comfort level.

  • Nothing. There are lots of things that really don’t need to be wrapped. That’s the best solution, when practical. I could have put this at the bottom of the list, but since there are even more foods that cannot be left with no cover or seal it goes at the top.
  • Wax paper. Wax paper and a rubber band can seal a bowl, or an item could be wrapped in wax paper like a package. BUT, what kind of wax and other additives are used? I have had little success finding that information, which makes me uncomfortable. Personally, I prefer to avoid petroleum-based waxes for potential exposure and environmental impact reasons.
  • Foil. Works when wrapping an item, and ok for covering a dish. I’m guessing that I’m not the only person who has a problem keeping the foil in place and sealed on a large bowl without having to wrap the bowl twice-over. And aluminum foil should never be used in direct contact with acidic foods. There’s also the matter of recycling. Theoretically, aluminum foil could be made of recycled aluminum and could therefore have a fraction of the energy footprint of a mined ore product. Unfortunately, not all boxes of foil say whether or how much recycled material is used. Also theoretically, used aluminum foil could be recycled. However, aluminum foil seems to be a frequent guest of the “do not recycle” list because of food contamination issues. By that I mean the food left stuck on the foil attracts pests and rots, and recycling companies don’t want to deal with that. I understand that contamination with food residue is the biggest reason for recyclable items to be landfilled by solid waste companies. Even though I always wash used foil and then fold it instead of wadding it, I have a sneaking suspicion that it gets sorted out and landfilled anyway. If I can’t get the foil clean, it just goes straight into the trash. Of course, foil can be reused; at least until it tears.
  • Resealable plastic bags. These things are just so darned useful. We put cheese in a zippered bag so that if it goes moldy nothing else will, and open sausage/hot dog packs so that we can prevent a mess. Yes, it’s plastic, and no, I still do not trust the FDA and plastic manufacturers. But these bags typically only contact part of the surface of the food, and I hope that since they don’t have to have the fancy stretch-cling properties as cling wrap, that they have fewer additives.
  • Plastic containers. I rely on my drawer of plastic containers. Tupperware, Gladware, whatever. They are made from “safe” plastics, but I always see the advice to not heat food in them to avoid concerns with leaching chemicals. Admittedly I regularly microwave my leftovers in Tupperware. Unfortunately, after several years this means the plastic has absorbed a lot of food odors and now contaminate new foods with the odors of years and years of leftovers. My current wish is to transition away from plastic food containers because of the same chemical concerns as plastic wrap. This was a goal reward for myself last year, but I unfortunately did not meet the goal, so I still dread opening my lunch most days.
  • Glass or metal containers. Pyrex or metal bowls with plastic lids, cooking pots, the glass-lidded bowl from the rice cooker, a plate covering a bowl, reused jars, etc. There are lots of options and each has its own pros/cons. Maybe there’s not a huge difference between plastic lids and plastic wrap, but the reusability factor is big.
  • Fabric. Our fridge is filled with unbleached organic cotton bags. Most of our farmer’s market haul goes into fabric bags or loose. Fabric bags don’t work for leftovers, of course, but for other stuff they’re great. They are easy to wash, organic, and repeatedly reusable. A fabric cloth can also be placed over a bowl or plate instead of a plastic lid or wrap in the microwave.
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Posted September 6, 2010 by mayakey in food, home, resource use

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