Do you cover your leftovers with cling wrap or aluminium foil before storing them in the fridge? While commonplace, single-use food wraps are not good for our environment. If you’ve landed here looking for better, more sustainable alternatives to reduce your (non-recyclable) waste, keep on reading.
Today’s article explores why our traditional food wrappings are bad for the environment and whether beeswax wraps could be a suitable alternative. We also share what we found when testing Net Zero Co’s beeswax wraps.
Why should we cover food?
Food in the refrigerator should always be covered. Uncovered food can dry out, absorb unpleasant odours and more importantly, attract cross-contamination. Covered food keeps for longer, which has economic benefits and reduces food waste.
As a tip: cooked foods vulnerable to contamination should always be stored at the upper levels of your fridge, while food that could cause contamination (like raw meats and seafood) should be stored at the lower levels. Also, make sure whatever you store your food in is clean and dry before use.
Why are traditional food wrappings bad for the environment?
Most household plastic wrap is made from microwave-safe polyethene and does not contain the nasty polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) of the past. While that is an improvement, both the manufacturing and the disposal of household plastic wrap are harmful to our environment:
- The key ingredient of household plastic wrap these days is polyethylene. Polyethylene is made from ethylene, a natural gas. In solid form, it is not considered dangerous. But during the manufacturing process, it could be toxic if ingested as vapour or liquid.
- Food-grade cling wrap is difficult to recycle and thus generally ends up in landfill or worse, it may choke or trap wildlife if not disposed of properly.
Similarly, manufacturing and disposal of aluminium foil cause considerable harm:
- Aluminium foil manufacturing starts with bauxite ore mining and is a complex, energy-intensive and emissions-heavy process.
- Aluminium foil is as recyclable as an aluminium coke can, except some recycling programmes aren’t equipped to process the foil. That means most of our tin foil waste also ends up in the landfill. According to Clorox New Zealand (which owns Mono® and Glad®), aluminium foil in landfill is virtually non-toxic and will eventually oxidise to aluminium oxide, without emissions of gas or pollutants. I’m not a scientist to prove or disprove their claim.
According to HuffPost, experts estimate that plastic hangs around landfills for up to 1,000 years; aluminium foil, 500. So, I guess it’s your pick of the best out of the worst bunch. Or is it?
What alternative, more sustainable food wrappings are out there?
Good news: While not perfect, there are more sustainable alternatives to cling wrap or aluminium foil. Examples include:
- Plate covers
- Beeswax wraps
- Muslin cloths
- Silicone lids
- Glass storage containers with glass or silicone lid.
What are beeswax wraps made of?
A beeswax wrap, in essence, is a beeswax-infused cloth which makes the cloth more water-resistant. What makes them different are the individual quality of ingredients, and how they are prepared and delivered.
Beeswax is normally sold in blocks of 500g or 1kg and is priced around NZD33 per kilogram. Beeswax needed for a wrap needs to be of food-grade quality (most of them are). Some are bleached, but the packaging should state this. The other items you normally need to make beeswax wrap are:
- pine resin
- oil (usually jojoba or coconut oil)
Pine resin (also known as tree sap or colophony) is not essential, however it is the ingredient that makes the wrap sticky. Pine resin is normally sold in solid form or as a powder.
Most manufacturers of beeswax cloth use and recommend jojoba oil over any other as it has anti-fungal properties. And combined with the pine resin, helps to mould the beeswax wrap around the item you want to cover. Jojoba oil comes from the seeds of the jojoba plant.
As for the cloth, the best ones are 100% organic cotton. They should be lightweight, tightly woven and non-stretchy. Commercially available beeswax wraps tend to be very colourful: Manufactures use patterns to disguise any marks or discolouration made by the beeswax itself.
Why consider beeswax wraps?
Below are the commonly accepted pros and cons for beeswax wraps:
|All natural||Not as pliable as plastic wrap or tin foil|
|Reusable (many brands suggest they can be used up to 200 times)||Melts in hot temperatures (but so does cling wrap)|
|Compostable||Can absorb strong smells|
|Possible to make your own||Can attract mould and potential nasty bacteria; thus not ideal for all foods (avoid using beeswax to cover raw meat, fish, food for infants or food for the immunocompromised)|
|Great for living tiny as they are lightweight and don’t take up any space||Pricier than alternatives|
Beeswax Wrap Q&A
Do beeswax wraps taint the flavour and smell of food?
Depending on the commercial brand or if you make your beeswax wrap at home, there may be a faint smell of beeswax, but it shouldn’t transmit onto food.
Are beeswax wraps safe?
Beeswax wraps are made from only a few natural ingredients, and as such are easily compostable.
Unfortunately, as they shouldn’t be washed vigorously in hot water, there is a risk that beeswax wraps could become contaminated with pathogens. Some people suggest to eradicate any bacteria that may have settled on beeswax wraps by ironing the wraps between baking paper from time to time, but we haven’t tested that. More importantly, as with anything that comes into contact with food, make sure you clean the wraps you use thoroughly as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
How do I clean a beeswax wrap?
Use cool soapy water to remove any food from the wrap, then let it air dry it properly before reuse.
How long do beeswax wraps last?
Most major suppliers of beeswax wraps suggest they can be reused over 200 times. If you make your beeswax wraps, you can re-impregnate the cloth with beeswax to extend the life of the wrap.
Can I put beeswax wraps in the freezer?
Yes, beeswax wraps can be used to wrap food stored in your freezer.
When do I know a beeswax wrap has reached its end of life?
The beeswax will start peeling off the cloth and the cloth will start to tear. This is generally due to the repeated washing, rather than the reuse.
How do I dispose of beeswax wraps properly when I can no longer use it?
The beauty of beeswax wraps is that when they can no longer function for the purpose they were produced for, they can be sent to your compost/food and the garden waste bin where they will disintegrate within six months.
How do Net Zero Co’s beeswax wraps stack up?
Beeswax Food Wraps Review
Product Name: Net Zero Co Beeswax Food Wraps
Product Description: Set of 3 reusable and biodegradable food storage wraps in different sizes
Brand: Net Zero Company
Offer price: 19.99
Offer URL: https://www.netzerocompany.com/collections/plastic-free-kitchen/products/reusable-beeswax-food-wraps?rfsn=3980909.eabb03
Valid until: 31 Dec 2021
- Cloth Size
- Refund Policy
- Supply Chain Transparency
- Quality Control
- Practical Experience
The Beeswax Food Wraps Set of 3 contains wraps in the following sizes:
- Small (7inch x 7inch, 17.8cm x 17.8cm)
- Medium (10inch x 10inch, 25.5cm x 25.4cm)
- Large (13inch x 13inch, 33cm x 33cm).
The large beeswax has the same width as most cling films. The only difference is that you can decide how much of the cling wrap you need. I would have liked to have a rectangular option where one side was about 20inch (50cm) to cover oven dish leftovers. Rectangular wraps would also be more useful for sandwiches.
The beeswax wraps are made of 100% organic cotton, pine resin and jojoba oil. Some beeswax wrap manufacturers include additional ingredients. Less is more in my view.
The Beeswax Food Wraps came in a flat-pack sleeve, which according to Net Zero Co is 100% recyclable and 100% home compostable. Net Zero Co provided the appropriate certificates by BPI, TÜV and DIN. More details about their packaging policy can be found on the Net Zero Co website.
Net Zero Co’s refund policy only applies to items that are returned in their original (new) condition with all materials, original packaging, paperwork and accessories intact. There is no specific refund policy wording for the item not meeting the advertised product feature list. Any defective or missing items need to be reported to Net Zero Co within 30 days from the date the item is received.
That said, if you aren’t satisfied with the product, Net Zero Co have advised that they would work on a solution with you – whether it be sending a replacement, giving a discount, or a full refund. Making sure you are responded to and happy appears to be a very high priority for the company. For further details about their refund policy check out the Net Zero Co website.
Supply Chain Transparency
The list of ingredients is printed on the packaging and available on the company website. However, there is no further information made available about the sustainability and ethics of the supply chain.
Upon questioning, Net Zero Company stated that:
- they had screened their suppliers to ensure workers’ safety was a priority. Through pictures, the company was able to see the work practices and environment of the manufacturing staff, including whether staff wore the appropriate gear around machinery.
- suppliers were verified by an inspection company to ensure their values aligned with Net Zero Co.
- the cotton was grown locally near the manufacturing space.
Net Zero Co currently don’t have an ethical, sustainability or eco-certification, but they are envisaging it in the future.
Before a product batch is shipped to the warehouse, Net Zero Co states that a full inspection according to the AQL Level II standard is conducted. This includes verification of materials, quality tests, smell tests and drop tests. While Net Zero Co Beeswax Food Wraps are certified as compliant with US Food and Drug Administration, European Union and German requirements, it is unclear how often the quality assurance is validated.
I tested the different wraps over a few weeks on various food items, for example:
- I stored three quartered apples in the fridge for a few days – one each wrapped in beeswax wrap, cling film and tin foil. While there was no noticeable difference in discolouration or taste between the apples, the one wrapped in beeswax was noticeably more moist than the other two.
- Salad leftovers in a bowl covered with beeswax wrap were similarly fresh a day later compared to being covered with cling wrap.
- Moulding the beeswax wrap around bowls and plates was relatively easy. Although it isn’t nearly as air-tight as using cling film, it still served the purpose of protecting the food and preventing any smells from dissipating in the fridge.
At this stage, I cannot comment on the durability of the beeswax wraps, but I will update this review as and when the wraps reach their end of life.