With millions of us now cooking from scratch during lockdown, many are keeping up the fight against the global plastic binge and seeking more eco-friendly options to help store cooked and raw food in our fridges and avoid waste.
Pick up any cookbook or food magazine from the past few decades, and chances are the words “wrap in clingfilm” will be standard advice.
Clingfilm is invaluable for covering dishes of leftovers or wrapping awkwardly shaped food items. But the problem with standard film is that it can be difficult to recycle as it contains a plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Among other plastic-free options, reusable cotton wraps imbued with beeswax provide an an eco-friendly alternative to clingfilm.
Once a niche product – as well as prohibitively expensive – they have moved into the mainstream over the last couple of years and are now widely available online and in supermarkets, while it is also possible to make your own.
The model has been used to preserve food for centuries – the warmth of your hands melts the wax so the sheets can be moulded around everything from bowls and plates to cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables. For health reasons, they are not appropriate for wrapping raw meat or fish.
New products in development include plant-based or vegan wraps that use sumac, sunflower and even rice bran wax instead of beeswax. There’s also a proliferation of different designs and sizes, and even some suitable for use in the bathroom, to wrap soap etc.
We road-tested some of the plastic-free options:
1. Lakeland compostable perforated clingfilm, GBP3.99 for a 30-metre x 28.5cm-wide roll, perforated every 30cm
Produced by an Italian supplier, the polyester film is designed to break down under home and industrial home composting conditions, and it is claimed that it will disappear within 12 months without leaving any harmful residue in the compost.
Instructions on the packaging make clear that it should not be used in ovens, grills or the microwave. The perforations are handy, as it is difficult to cut the film with scissors.
When we wrapped a slightly soggy cheese and tomato sandwich, the clingfilm did not stick together or “cling” very well, so we would not be confident about its durability if carried around. That said, it is strong and did its job perfectly when used to cover food in containers in the fridge, with no whiff evident from an open pot of tuna. It can also be used in the freezer, although it was hard to tell whether it would survive long-term.
Overall verdict: An affordable guilt-free film that is useful for many kitchen jobs but cannot be used for cooking and does not have the “clingability” of the standard version.
2. Essential Waitrose non-PVC clingfilm, GBP2 for a 40-metre x 35cm-wide roll.
This product has been available since 2016. However, it does carry many warnings on its packaging – including on flammability – and is not recommended for covering dishes when heating or defrosting food in microwaves. For this purpose, Waitrose recommends its standard all-purpose clingfilm.
We ended up wasting a lot of the film when trying to unwind it and cut it – and it needed large amounts to make it “stick” to itself. We were able to wrap the cheese and tomato sandwich but in mummy-like layers as it did not seem very strong. Not good for food on the move. Although it is not compostable it is described as “widely recycled”.
Overall verdict: Has lots of uses in the kitchen, provided you accept its restrictions and keep away from the heat.
3. The Beeswax Wrap Co’s pack of five beeswax wraps; GBP30 from beeswaxwraps.co.uk and other retailers.
The company makes all its wraps in the Cotswolds and says they are washable, reusable and compostable on home compost heaps, while the durability of cotton means it won’t tear. It has collaborations with designers such as Emma Bridgewater and its beeswax wrap eco-starter gift bundle has been so popular as a Christmas gift that it is sold out.
Again, there are some warnings, and the wraps must be kept away from heat or naked flames, not used in the microwave and should not be used with raw meat or fish.
Our cheese and tomato sandwich fared well in the medium wrap, which held at bay any seepage. We found the smaller wraps were ideal for complete leftovers such as half-avocados, or for covering dishes and bowls. There is an extra large wrap (50cm x 50cm) which was ideal for wrapping bread and keeping stray crumbs and seeds at bay.
The smaller pieces were particularly useful for covering different types of cheese in the bottom of the fridge and avoiding mouldy “cheese mush”. They did absorb the pong although this was – eventually – washed out with cold soapy water.
Overall verdict: A fun and colourful alternative to clingfilm. The price may appear punitive but if you look after your wraps they should last for a year.
4. Leaf wrap, brightly coloured and printed plant-based wax food wraps, available from Lakeland, Booths supermarkets (generally in the north), Aga Cookshops and Milk & More. A pack of three costs GBP17.99.
The wraps use plant-derived rosin and waxes instead of beeswax, meaning they are vegan-friendly. They are made by BeeBee Wraps in Cambridge, which started making the more traditional beeswax versions.
Like the beeswax ones, they can be used to wrap anything except raw meat or fish and can typically be reused for a year. The wax only needed a little surface pressure before sticking down, and there was no odour at all from the wax itself. The cheese and tomato sandwich emerged unscathed from the wrapping, which was sufficiently heavy-duty but malleable. We also stored herbs in a loose pouch, and some leftover nuts. They can also be used in the freezer. We successfully froze sliced banana for a week before putting it in a smoothie, and the wrap emerged unscathed.
Overall verdict: A good option for vegan consumers, with what appears to be the same quality as beeswax.