Here at BuyMeOnce we are, unsurprisingly, already sold on the idea of reusable food wrap,with our favourite being these colourful beauties from The Beeswax Wrap Co.. Whilst they are undeniably a great way to reduce your plastic waste, we can understand that concerns still abound. Cling film has clung tight to our shopping lists ever since its invention in the 50s because it is, undeniably, ridiculously useful. Why should you give up on a time-tested product for these new-fangled, waxy wraps that might make your fridge smell strange? (Wax wraps actually smell luscious.)
We wanted to take the time to dig into the issue and see just how reusable food wraps measure up when pitched alongside traditional cling film. We’ll be looking at the environment, usability, usefulness, cost, and health risks, along with hints and tips for getting the most out of reusable wraps if you have them. Let’s get to it.
Let’s get this one out of the way - cling film is terrible for the environment. Designed as a single-use plastic, it’s right up there at the top of the podium alongside plastic straws and plastic cutlery getting top prize for 'nastiest plastics hurting our planet.'
Whilst some single-use plastics are at least recyclable (not a huge saving grace, but better) cling film is extremely difficult to recycle. The resins and chemicals called phthalates that give cling film its clinginess cannot be easily separated, making it too complex a material to break down and reuse effectively.
You should never put cling film in your recycling bin because a) it will likely not be recycled, and b) it is likely to have been contaminated with food, thereby preventing other valuable materials from being recycled as well.
In contrast, a lot of reusable food wraps can literally be thrown on the compost heap when you’re done with them. Though wraps can be made out of many kinds of fabric, companies we’ve found like The Beeswax Wrap Co. use all natural materials that will naturally biodegrade.
Take home: cling film is terrible for the environment. Reusable food wraps made using all natural materials have almost no impact.
Everybody knows how to use cling film, and apart from those times when it just won’t tear off the roll it is phenomenally easy. So, how do reusable food wraps compare?
Like many things, it’s simple once you’re familiar with the product. Using the heat from your hands to gently warm the wax is the way to give it a really good seal, so you should hold your wrapped food for a few seconds once it’s in place. Beginning with a starter pack of varying sizes from small to large will help you make sure you always have the right size to hand.
Since the wraps must be washed rather than throwing them away, this adds maybe 30 seconds to your clearing up process. You should gently wash the wraps using mild soap and cold water, and for your wraps to last as long as possible they should also be pasteurised every few months.
Though subjective to an extent, the wraps are more pleasant to work with in terms of look and feel. The patterns and colours add interest and uniqueness (great for quick identification), and both the smell and texture are lovely and natural. The smell of beeswax can be strong at first, but fades quickly with use.
There are a few other uses for cling film besides wrapping food which wraps won’t help you with, including covering fresh tattoos, treating burns, and preventing paint rollers from drying out.
to create a piping bag, create small pouches for travelling with snacks, and even wrap up bars of soap for travelling. They’re also useful for wrapping any loose produce, bread, fish and poultry whilst out shopping in a neat, plastic-free way.
Take home: cling film is the more time efficient, and may be helpful if you’ve recently started a tattoo business. Wraps are the more versatile, attractive and useful product overall for handling food.
Over the years there has been wild speculation surrounding the health risks of plastic food containers and cling film, specifically that nasty, harmful chemicals contained within the plastics can leach out into your food. Some of the worst accusations have been links to fertility, cancer and foetal development.
In general, a lot of these claims are false. Studies have proven that small amounts of harmful chemicals can be released into foods and drinks under extreme testing conditions, but through normal domestic use it is very unlikely that unsafe chemicals will be released into your food. There are strict laws and regulations against chemical contamination in food contact material, and according to Cancer Research UK no convincing evidence exists to suggest that chemicals found in domestic plastics can cause cancer.
However, this only applies to products used exactly according to instructions. If using cling film in the microwave it is still best to make sure none of the film is touching your food, as this is where research gets hazy. As best practice you should always use kitchen plastics and cling film exactly according to instructions.
Take home: whilst there is evidence that harmful chemicals can leach out under certain conditions, you shouldn’t be worried for your health using it on a daily basis. Always use exactly according to instructions and take care when microwaving.
The average lifespan of reusable food wraps can be over a year if you look after them properly, and a standard starter pack costs £20. The starter pack includes one large wrap (good for casseroles and large dishes), a medium wrap (perfect for sandwiches), and a small wrap (perfect for veg halves and jars). Standard cling film wrap costs around 5p per metre in most UK supermarkets. So, how does this cost work out across the year?
Assuming someone takes a sandwich to work every day (around 2m per week), makes a couple of large dishes a week that need covering (around 1m per week) and has some veg halves to use up (around 0.5m per week), then the cling film would come to roughly £10 over the year.
Take home: cling film is less expensive if used in modest quantities without wastage throughout the year.
To wrap up (pun intended), the benefits of cling film unsurprisingly lies in its time-efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Whilst the incendiary health risks are largely untrue, it’s worth being aware that harmful chemicals in plastic do exist, and if they’re not hurting you then they are without question hurting the environment.
Reusable wraps, whilst a little more expensive and requiring a certain level of care, have longer term benefits when it comes to usefulness around your home and experience of using them. The more creative you get with them the more useful they will become.
Overall the differences and benefits are clear but aren’t all that drastic until you look at the environmental costs. So, if you care about that sort of thing (*stage whisper* ...and you should), we think reusable food wraps are a lifestyle swap and an investment really worth thinking about.