Food wrap choices have long focused on petroleum-based options, but you can do better. Cling wrap is the sticky, thin plastic film handy for covering food dishes that you often see at potlucks and in fridges full of leftovers. You might know it as Saran Wrap, a trademark of S.C. Johnson, or shrink wrap. Although many film plastics are recyclable, cling wrap is not.
Most cling wrap is made from polyvinyl chlorides (PVC), a flexible form of plastic used in a variety of U.S. goods. PVC releases dioxin, a toxin known to cause reproductive and developmental human health issues, during manufacture, use, and disposal.
Those who have used cling wrap know it’s not reusable — it sticks to itself so well that using it even once can be tough. That means that each piece of cling wrap we use ends up contaminating the environment or sitting in a landfill. And PVC can take up to a thousand years to degrade.
Research suggests the potentially toxic plastics in our cling wrap leach into our food and drink. Because PVC is a known carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor, this can be detrimental to human health.
Avoid human and environmental contamination by ditching plastic cling wrap and trying some of these sustainable alternatives.
Need to store your leftover lunch, a half-eaten block of cheese, a chunk of bread? Beeswax food wraps have it covered (literally). This reusable and plastic-free option infuses organic cotton with naturally malleable beeswax to create a sustainable cling wrap alternative. Beeswax wrap keeps food fresh and is delightfully versatile. Buy your own Bee’s Wrap or turn it into a DIY project with friends.
Glass jars are staples in every zero waster’s toolkit. They’re washable, reusable, and recyclable. The material’s durability makes it a top choice for endlessly reusable containers that don’t pose health risks.
Reusable glass containers are becoming more common in retail food packaging, sometimes requiring a small deposit that’s refunded when you return the empty container. That’s a big win for green-minded shoppers.
Many health food stores allow you to use your own reusable containers at the bulk bins, too. If you don’t have jars the right shape for your needs, a variety of glass and metal food storage containers are commercially available. Just remember to write down the tare weight of your containers before filling up.
Make your own elastic and cloth bowl covers or use the Japanese cloth wrapping technique, furoshiki, as food wrap. You can purchase furoshiki wrapping cloth or just use any square or rectangular fabric for furoshiki wrapping techniques.
You can easily wash and reuse cloth wraps over and over. Flat cloth wraps have multiple uses — napkins, tablecloths, picnic blankets — while handy reusable bowl covers make for an easy, snug-fitting transition from cling wrap.
Soy Wax Paper
Soy wax paper is a more sustainable choice. It’s compostable, nontoxic, and often made with sustainable ingredients. Soy wax or parchment paper is a safe and eco-friendly way to save food while keeping flavor and freshness in.
Wax paper is perfect for packaging baked goods, produce, and deli items. Is your local grocer on board with this sustainable packaging option?
Whatever you choose, food wraps that are nontoxic, compostable, and organically sourced are the best way to keep your meals and cooking ingredients fresh.
Originally published on July 9, 2018, this article was updated in July 2020.