Cling Film is a great tool to help reduce food waste. It sticks to pretty much any material (including itself), keeping leftovers fresh and making open products last longer. It’s a popular product, worth almost $1 billion, with one study finding that almost a quarter of American households go through at least one roll once every six months.
But Cling Film is plastic, and does create a waste problem in of itself.
It’s difficult to reuse or recycle, so the only real option for the eco-conscious is to reduce the amount that you use, or preferably, find a plastic wrap substitute for an environmentally friendly alternative to cling film.
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Why look for a Cling Film Alternative?
Cling Film, also known as saran wrap, is made from polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or Polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), all plastics that are derived from petroleum products. Plastic granules are melted and stretched into tubes, which are then blown out and stretched further into thin sheets and rolled.
Thin, soft plastics like Cling Film need to go to specialized recycling plants, and even then they can’t be made into new soft plastic. So every new piece of Cling Film that you use has to be made from virgin material. Recycled soft plastic most often gets remade into hard, composite products like public outdoor furniture and playgrounds and boardwalks. Even when it gets disposed of, Cling Film causes more problems than other waste.
In landfills or incinerators, PVC and PVDC can release dioxin, a toxin, and carcinogen that persists in the environment and accumulates in food chains. The thin plastic can also get into waterways very easily, and, even worse, can pick up bacteria and metals that can cause harm to marine life.
Cling film also contains a lot of chemicals that you might not want to consume. Although it is safe for use when used properly, it shouldn’t touch food when being used in a microwave and some cling film is not suitable for wrapping fatty foods like cheese or pastry. A concerning thought when you consider how widespread the use of Cling Film is!
Best Plastic Wrap Alternatives
So, is there an alternative to such a convenient and versatile product? There might not be a one-size-fits-all solution for every person and every scenario, but there are plenty of alternatives to cling film to help you ditch the plastic.
Let’s look at some of the best eco alternatives to Cling Film below.
LIDDED CONTAINERS OR JARS
For a tighter seal, you can store food in lidded, reusable containers made from plastic, glass, or metal. Submerge things like chopped vegetables or unused canned beans and lentils into water, to stop them from coming into contact with the air and drying out.
If you are microwaving leftovers, place the lid on top loosely. For reheating meals in a sauce like pasta or stews, add a teaspoon or two of water to stop the heat from drying them out.
Where to buy Lidded Containers
A slightly more versatile version of lidded containers is to use reusable covers as a saran wrap alternative, that you can use over any kind of bowl or plate.
These come in stretchable silicone versions, or fabric. Be wary of the thin shower-cap-like covers, however, which break easily, contain more plastic than Cling Film, and are unlikely to be reused.
We’d recommend sticking to 100% cotton options, like those shown above, that are long-lasting, and that are biodegradable at end of life.
Where to buy Reusable Fabric Food Covers
SILICONE FOOD HUGGERS
Fresh food cooking often leaves you with half-cut fruit and vegetables like onions, tomatoes, avocados, and lemons. These need a really good seal to stop them from turning dry or going brown.
For these cases, silicone Food Huggers might be a good option as a saran wrap substitute. They stretch to fit tightly around cut produce, and come in sets with a range of sizes.
Food Huggers are BPA-free and go straight into the dishwasher. There is a bit of an upfront cost, but no more than typical kitchen containers, and the basic set will serve most purposes.
Where to buy Silicone Food Huggers
BEESWAX FOOD WRAPS
Beeswax wraps are an excellent plastic wrap replacement for storing and covering a wide range of foods. You can use them to wrap up lunchbox items and half-cut vegetables, make little bags, or combine them with an elastic band to make a tighter cover for containers.
The beeswax means that the folds stay in place, and there are a bunch of clever folding ‘wrapigami’ techniques to make pouches, packages, and even boxes. To wash them, simply run them under cold water. The beeswax won’t stay on there forever but you can refresh them with additional wax or just compost the leftover cotton material.
Beeswax wraps come in an amazing array of beautiful prints and a large range of sizes, and you can even buy them by the roll.
Where to buy Beeswax Food Wraps
VEGAN FOOD WRAPS
An alternative to a beeswax wrap is a vegan reusable food wrap, made with plant waxes like candelilla and soy wax. They work in exactly the same way as the beeswax version but don’t use any animal products.
You can even make your own non plastic food wrap from your favorite cotton fabric, solid wax pellets, coconut oil, and pine rosin.
Where to buy Vegan Food Wraps
Messier foods that tend to leak, or spill out like fruit or powdered products, might be suited to a silicone bag as a substitute for cling wrap. They are made from food-grade silicone and can be used over and over again without breaking down.
Silicone bags are the ultimate alternative to ziplock bags and can be used in the freezer, microwave, oven, and dishwasher. You can even boil the contents directly for sou vide cooking. Try freezing bags of vegetables combined with your favorite herbs and spices, which can be thrown directly into a pan of boiling water for a no-fuss dinner option.
As they are lightweight and waterproof, silicone bags are also a great option for zero-waste hiking.
Where to buy Silicone Bags:
What can be cuter for your sandwiches than a little cotton bag? Some come with an inner lining to keep things like tomato slices in check, otherwise, you could opt for a cotton-only version and pack them separately to avoid that soggy bread syndrome.
Cotton is ideal for storing larger loaves, particularly those artisan crusty-type pieces of bread. The breathable fabric stops it from sweating without getting stale, and protects it from flies if left out on the counter.
Where to buy Cotton Food Bags
If you’ve ever made your own bread or pizza dough, you will know that a key step in the process is letting it rest so that the yeast can get to work. Recipes often call for the dough to be covered with Cling Film during this phase to retain warmth, but you can use a clean dish towel as an alternative.
A handy trick is to dampen the dishtowel slightly to help stop the dough from drying out too much. And remember, organic cotton always trumps regular cotton.
Where to buy Organic Cotton Dish Towels
BROWN BUTCHER’S PAPER
Brown butcher’s paper can be recycled or home composted (just be sure to check it doesn’t have a “non-stick” lining). It’s a versatile, non-plastic food wrap and has been traditionally used for wrapping up meat and fish well before Cling Film was invented.
You don’t need to stop at raw products, either, as it can be used in a number of cooking techniques including slow roasting, or BBQ, en-papillote, and brushed with a bit of oil or melted butter for non-stick baking.
Where to buy Eco Butcher’s Paper:
COMPOSTABLE CLING WRAP
If you really can’t do without the magic of Cling Film, you can actually get eco-friendly cling wrap products that are very similar, but are compostable. They are typically made with natural starch products, derived from things like potatoes, corn, and sugarcane.
They might not perform as well as their petroleum-based counterparts – some consumer testing reported too much ‘self-sticking’ – but if you are keen to make a difference, you can probably learn to cope with that.
Look very carefully at the labeling – biodegradable is not the same thing and just creates smaller pieces of plastic in the environment, and some can only be composted in industrial conditions. This option is still better for the environment if you can’t dispose of it at a suitable composting site or your home compost, but it will take a couple of years in the anaerobic conditions of the landfill.
Where to buy Compostable Cling Film:
FREE ALTERNATIVE – PLATES, BOWLS & PAN LIDS
It may not be high-tech, but using crockery to cover food works perfectly well for most things and allows you to go completely plastic-free. If you are only keeping leftovers for a day, it doesn’t necessarily need to be in an airtight container. For food that is made in a pan, you can even save on the washing up and cover it with a pan lid!
Cling Film might seem like the easiest choice for use in the kitchen, but with so many alternatives for pretty much any scenario, there is no shortage of options to make the switch with.
Try a few out and see what works for you.