Beeswax Wraps Replace Plastic Wrap

Last updated on February 27, 2021.

Beeswax wrap over a bowl
Image by RikaC from Pixabay

If you’re reading about beeswax wraps, chances are that you already know that plastic wrap and plastic Ziploc bags are single-use disposable items and they are unsafe for human health and the environment. Annually in the U.S., we purchase millions of rolls of plastic wrap and boxes of Ziploc bags. They are not recyclable, and in landfills and incinerators, the plastic can release highly toxic chemicals called dioxins. Worse, when plastic gets hot, it can leach chemicals into your food! The best thing to do is to find an alternative: aluminum foil (which is still disposable), reusable glass or metal containers, or beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are simply reusable coated cloth wraps for keeping food items fresh. I discovered them about 3 years ago, and I was immediately excited by the prospect of eliminating disposable plastic wrap! I bought some Abeego brand wraps and have been a convert ever since. They are completely zero waste, they preserve food, and are free from toxic ingredients. Here’s a short video from that company about how to use them:

I believe Abeego was one of the earliest online stores to sell beeswax wraps, and this is exhibited in their quality. There are many other companies and many Etsy shops that make these now, so you have lots of choices. They are a little expensive on the front end, but they last at least a year or longer, and you save money by not buying disposable plastic wrap. And they are compostable at the end of their life, unlike plastic wrap.

Are beeswax wraps DIY-worthy?

Many people ask if they can save money by making their own. I’ve found that it depends on your results. I have invested a lot of my own time and money on DIY wraps and found that they lack the same pliability and texture that I liked from the ones I purchased. That said, there are thousands of DIY recipes and methods for making beeswax wraps on your own. I’ve tried several of them and here’s how I did it.

Fabric

This was the most fun part for me! I love choosing fabric. For this project, I chose to use medium and large scraps that I already had on hand instead of buying new fabric. Make sure you wash the fabric first so that you are starting with clean fabric. Then I measured and cut squares in various sizes with pinking shears.

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Ingredients

It is difficult to get the right concoction of ingredients. Abeego’s wraps are made with a formulation of beeswax, tree resin, and jojoba oil. Their wraps are smooth, adhere well, and smell good. I first made these using beeswax only, and they came out ok. I thought I could improve them by mixing beeswax with pine tree resin and jojoba oil, according to the online instructions I was following. The resin did not spread evenly despite my best efforts and clumped in certain spots. This made the wraps crusty and difficult to use. The ones I made with beeswax only came out better, so on my third trial, I went back to beeswax only. Again, they’re ok and functional, but not the same quality as the purchased versions.

I recently discovered that some companies, such as SuperBee by BeeConscious Company, sell DIY kits with their proprietary formula premixed into a bar for you to make wraps with your own fabric at home. This would save the struggle of trying to calculate the measurements just right. What a cool idea!

Beeswax bar and knife on cutting board
You can buy beeswax pellets or grate your own from beeswax bars. I have done both and found grating the bars to be less expensive. But it ruined my grater. Instead, you can chop up the beeswax bar into little pieces and it seems to work just as well.
Chopped beeswax pieces on a beeswax wrap
Chopped beeswax pieces on a beeswax wrap.

Method

I read quite a few online posts about how to make these and found three general methods, of which I’ve tried two. They are:

      • Oven
      • Flat iron
      • Hand dip

The easiest and my favorite method is to place the fabric on a flat cookie sheet and sprinkle the ingredients on the fabric, then put it into the oven at 200-225 degrees (F) for 3-6 minutes. Be prepared to use an old or second-hand cookie sheet, as it is difficult to get all of the beeswax off after.

For the ironing method, lay wax paper* under the fabric on an ironing board, sprinkle the ingredients on the fabric, then lay wax paper on top. Next, iron on a low setting. This method is effective too but more time-consuming than using the oven. The last way involves melting the ingredients in a double boiler and dipping the fabric into it. This is the one I didn’t try because I anticipated the mess I would make.

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Overall, my wraps are functional and I use them all the time in combination with my Abeego wraps. I’ve spent many hours trying to perfect these, and have not achieved the perfect wrap. I am also unable to make any larger than my cookie sheet, so I would have to purchase them if I want extra-large sizes. After lots of trial and error, I think purchasing works best for me. But you may have better results, so don’t let me dissuade you!

Set of homemade beeswax wraps
Set of my own beeswax wraps

Caring for beeswax wraps

They are very simple to care for whether homemade or purchased! You wash them with mild dish soap and rinse in cool water. I bought a small, square, metal drying rack that hangs above my kitchen sink. I wash, rinse, and hang them on a clip to air dry! Of course, if you buy them, check the recommended care on the package first.

Drying rack for hang drying beeswax wraps

You will know when it is time to cycle out your old wraps, as they will appear dingy or stained. But if you have a few that haven’t been used as frequently, but seem less pliable or sticky than before, you can restore the wraps. I simply spread a small amount of beeswax over the existing wraps and place it in the oven for 2-3 minutes at 200-225 degrees (F).

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SuperBee features a video to restore wraps as well, only without using additional beeswax. They simply put the wrap in a toaster oven to remelt the wax so it spreads back out:

Goodbye, Plastic Wrap 

Beeswax wraps are a superior food storage solution. They are a great replacement for plastic wraps, plastic Ziploc bags, and plastic food containers. Whether you purchase beeswax wraps or make them, the fact that you are open to getting rid of plastic in your life is awesome and potentially life-changing. If you decide to make them, I encourage you to find quality instructions online to make your own. And if you perfect your method, be sure to comment below and tell me about it!

Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

 

*Note: Most wax paper sold today is not actually coated in wax, they are coated with a thin layer of paraffin, which is petroleum-based (plastic-related). In this post, the wax paper I used was a brand called If You Care and sells healthier and environmentally friendly kitchen products. Their wax paper is coated with soybean wax and I put it in the compost when I’m done with it. I bought it at Whole Foods but you can find it online as well.

If You Care Waxed paper
Photo by If You Care

 

Additional Resource:

Article: “The sticky problem of plastic wrap,” National Geographic, July 12, 2019.

This post does not contain affiliate links nor did I get paid to promote the products in this post. All photos by me unless otherwise noted.

The Packaging Industry and How We Can Consume Differently, Part 13

Last updated on February 14, 2021.

Trash littered beach
Image by H. Hach from Pixabay

Welcome to this part of my Packaging series! If you read my last post, you learned about refillable options for personal care items. Today, we will look at food packaging.

I honestly cannot say enough about food packaging because there is so much encasing our foods. Sometimes this is to make packing and shipping easier. Other times, food is overpackaged to create a false sense of sanitation, as mentioned in my first post in this series. BASF, a chemical company in the business of making such packaging, argues that “good packaging can enhance the cleanness and freshness of food, while offering branding opportunities for food manufacturers.”1 This is a false notion, and I believe plastic packaging causes more health problems than not using packaging.

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” —Robert Swan, author and explorer

The Produce Section: Bagging

Produce in plastic bags
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

The produce section is where I spend most of my time in the supermarket. When shopping produce, we are encouraged, even prompted, to bag the items. When I starting going plastic-free, I bought my own reusable produce bags and continually use them at all grocery stores and farmers’ markets. You can buy bags like these, or even make your own:

Cloth mesh produce bags
Cloth mesh bag
Mesh produce bags
Mesh bags made from polyester or plastic. These aren’t ideal but they are infinitely reusable. Photo by Amazon
Cloth produce bags
Organic cotton muslin cloth bags

In her book, plastic-free expert Beth Terry notes that most fruits and vegetables have their own packaging.2 Produce like bananas, lemons, onions, garlic, and a host of others, have natural peels removed before eating. These do not require extra packaging.

Plastic bags have always been marketed to us as more sanitary. So much so, that you, dear reader, most likely cringe at the idea of not bagging your fresh produce. The truth is, that’s debatable and it comes at the cost of polluting the environments we live in. I wash most of my fruits and vegetables before I eat them anyway, whether they were bagged or not. 

Man holding unbagged produce over shopping cart
Image by CYNICALifornia from Pixabay

The Produce Section: Overpackaged

Plastic wrapping on produce can be extreme, and I’ve seen it in every type of grocery store. Such packaging is wasteful because it is so unnecessary. Here are numerous examples of overpackaged produce:

Bulk Foods

Person filling jar from bulk bins at store
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

When I mention bulk purchasing, I do not mean the oversized packages of coffee, peanut butter, and toilet paper from Sam’s Club or Costco. I am referring to the bulk bins in grocery stores and other food product shops. You can fill your own containers, just have them weighed at customer service first so you are not charged for the weight of the container. You can buy foods like beans, flour, granola, candy, dried fruit, etc. from these bins. Use glass jars or reusable cloth bags and avoid packaging altogether. Also, avoid bulk foods sold in “convenient” pre-weighed plastic containers like the ones pictured below. They defeat the purpose.

Prepackaged bulk food items.
Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

There are companies nationwide that offer refillable food items, such as Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Sprouts of Colorado, Rainbow Grocery in California, and Sustainable Haus in New Jersey. You can find shops that sell bulk items by searching Zero Waste Home’s app3 or by searching Litterless.com.4

Jar filled with item from bulk bins at grocery store
My own jar that I filled at the grocery store. Photo by me

No bulk in your area?

If there are not bulk bins available in the stores where you live, you still have options. Always choose glass instead of plastic packaging, since glass is 100% recyclable and plastic is recycled at a rate of under 10%. If a Container Deposit system exists in your state, use it because it ensures a much higher recycling rate for all types of materials. Look for brands of dried pasta that do not feature a plastic window (and if you buy that, please separate the plastic from the cardboard and only recycle the latter). Reuse Ziploc bags from deli meats and cheese. Avoid individually wrapped snacks, as it’s cheaper and better for the environment to buy a larger package and separate the food into small metal containers or reusable snack bags.

Loop

Created by TerraCycle, Loop is a closed-loop model that partners with consumer brands to put products in specially-designed durable and reusable containers. This is a take-back program, or a container deposit program, which we learned about in Part 7 of my Packaging series. Here’s a two-minute video explaining the business model and one way we can solve the disposable problem:

For a while, this was only available in parts of the U.S., but now it is available nationwide. While I love this business model, it still encourages consumers to buy some of the same products without changing their habits much. As Tom Szaky mentioned in the video, “let them experience a throw-away mentality but be doing the right thing from an environmental point of view.” This does eliminate single-use disposable packages, but as a consumer culture, we need to rethink how we spend, how we buy, and what we purchase.

I have attempted to purchase items from Loop several times, but I find it expensive. I don’t mind the container deposits because I’ll get those back. But the products have an upcharge and unfortunately, I cannot fit these into my budget. This makes it inaccessible to many people who want to support the cause. The upcharge to buy products in reusable packaging should be absorbed by companies, not put on consumers.

“Reusing an object saves time, energy and resources and does away with the need for waste disposal or recycling.” -Loop

Convenience vs. Environment

Our desire for convenience, driven by marketing and busy lifestyles, is killing the environment with packaging alone. Many argue that consumers have to change the way they shop; others argue that companies must change the packaging for items consumers buy. I think both are right – companies and consumers must change. Chris Daly of PepsiCo. believes that the convenience of packaging will continue because it is less work for the consumer. “Because these habits will be slow to change, we must continue to focus on improving the packaging that consumers take home and planning better for what happens to it,” he wrote in The Future of Packaging. Additionally, stores have to implement expensive infrastructure including the bins, scales, and systems for quality control and shrinkage.

But others disagree. In a well-written article, Karine Vann wrote that the use of bulk sections in grocery stores are not maximized to their full potential.5 These sections need promotion, normalization, and stores should educate consumers on how to use them. I believe this is entirely possible! We must do all we can to eliminate packaging waste.

“To truly reduce waste, advocates believe bulk must be more than just an aisle in the store—it must become a deliberate system that starts at home and continues seamlessly into the supermarket.” -Karine Vann6

Solutions

For more ideas, refer to my page on “11 Ways to go Plastic-Free with Food.” There are some great tips on how to shop and avoid packaging on the internet and I’ve included some articles under Additional Resources below. Last, don’t underestimate the power of growing your own food in your backyard or on your balcony.

Salad bowl with vegetables from garden
Photo by Elias Morr on Unsplash

Remember, we can all make a difference in how we consume and how we generate waste. We’re all sharing this planet and its’ beautiful and valuable resources, and we have nothing to lose by working together to create change.

If you’d like to read my Packaging series in full, please see this quick guide highlighting the contents of each article. And if you’ve already read it, I thank you and please subscribe! I’ll see you in my next post.

“If you want to eliminate waste in your life – and in the world – the answers will always come down to one simple thing: consume differently.” -Tom Szaky

Additional resources:

Article, “How to Grocery Shop When You Can’t Bring Your Own Containers,” Treehugger.com, updated March 20, 2020. There are some great tips on how to shop and avoid packaging when you can’t bring your own containers.

Article, “Eat your food, and the package too,” by Elizabeth Royte, National Geographic Magazine, August 2019.

Article, “The cost of plastic packaging,” by Alexander H. Tullo, Chemical & Engineering News, October 17, 2016.

Article, “Grocery Stores May Soon Offer Your Favorite Brands in Reusable Containers,” Treehugger.com, updated February 21, 2020. This features information about Loop.

Video, “Closing The Loop: The End of Disposable Plastics,” Fortune Magazine, June 12, 2019.

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to promote any of the products in this post.

Footnotes:

The Packaging Industry and How We Can Consume Differently, Part 1

Yellow excavator on mounds of waste, Indonesia
Waste pile in Indonesia. Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels

Waste. We have so much of it that we require large machinery to move it around for us. There’s so much waste that our landfills are overfilling; the ocean is polluted with plastic and toxins; and in parts of the world, people have to spend their days living and working surrounded by large amounts of waste.  This post is the first in a series about the impact of packaging and the packaging industry.

Most packaging comes from items we buy regularly. I recently purchased a bottle of Zyrtec. Almost all medicines come in plastic bottles, but I had to buy a plastic bottle of Zyrtec inside of more plastic packaging! I emailed the company to ask why and if they would consider ending the practice of overpackaging. Unfortunately, Johnson & Johnson, the owner of Zyrtec, sent a generic response: “We appreciate you reaching out to us with your concern. We always value the views and opinions of our consumers…We will make certain your feedback is shared with the appropriate management of our company.” This is the typical response I receive from companies but I keep trying nonetheless.

Zyrtec packaging. Photo by me
Zyrtec packaging that surrounded the small plastic bottle of tablets. Photo by me

 

“Packaging and containers are the largest segment of municipal solid by waste by product category.” -Beth Porter, author of Reduce, Reuse, Reimagine

Packaging is Everyone’s Responsibility

I am a recycler and I encourage you to recycle. But unfortunately, recycling isn’t the answer. Globally only about 9% – 13% of plastics are actually recycled. Since recycling doesn’t work in our current systems, we have to find a better set of solutions. Less packaging is one idea.

Corporations and companies are not doing enough to prevent plastic pollution, especially through the packaging industry. They have the power to stop producing packaging with disposable plastics and the resources to create more sustainable packaging. But we consumers have power too, to convince those companies to change.

“As consumers, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for how powerful we really are…View your purchases as having a direct impact on the goods and services companies choose to make.” -Tom Szaky, TerraCycle

I recently read The Future of Packaging: From Linear to Circular by Tom Szaky and 15 packaging industry leaders. The book exposed me to more information than I knew existed about packaging and the packaging industry. Then I read other books and several articles about the packaging industry. So I decided to share what I’ve learned with you, in several posts.

Single baking potato sold in plastic packaging for microwavable "convenience". Photo by me
Single baking potato sold in plastic packaging for microwavable “convenience”. Photo by me

Packaging history

How did we get to today, where we have packaging for every single item? Packaging inside of packaging? So much packaging, often made from either mixed materials or unrecyclable materials, that we now have a waste crisis? How did we get here?

Packaging used to be sustainable and reusable with very little waste. Glass bottles held soft drinks, milk, medicine, etc. Consumers returned these and the companies sanitized and refilled them. During World War II citizens collected scrap metal, paper, rubber, and even cooking waste. Cities sometimes issued quotas for recycling.

Beginning in the post-war era, packaging increased to make life more “convenient” and “easier” for women running households. At the same time, the global population was growing at a higher rate than ever before – tripling between 1950 and 2010. Consumerism grew along with increased wealth and disposable income in the western world. Plastic packaging in all forms became cheaper to create and ship while increasing convenience for consumers.

Life Magazine article of August 1, 1955 about "throwaway living".
Life Magazine article of August 1, 1955

The False Notion that Plastic is More Sanitary

Plastic also became the “sanitary” way to serve and sell food, a somewhat false notion that persists even today. While plastic can prevent foods from cross-contamination and spoilage, it is not the only material that can do so. There are many options but sadly, plastic has become the standard.

DuPont advertising for cellophane wrapped produce
“Clean and fresh” advertising of DuPont cellophane to increase convenience.

“The spreading fear of a contaminated environment has spawned legions of buyers of bottled water, pasteurized egg and dairy products, and irradiated meats and seafood. Packaging can be highly misleading, however.” -Daniel Imhoff, Paper or Plastic

For a full history of plastic packaging and plastic in general, I recommend  Susan Freinkel’s Plastic: A Toxic Love Story.

Cover of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

The Current Situation

Packaging today is out of control. Despite solutions and ideas and innovations, there is far too much packaging in everything, made of all material types. “Today, the average American throws out at least three hundred pounds of packaging a year,” according to Susan Freinkel. In 2017, nearly 30% of U.S. municipal solid waste was from containers and packaging according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This amounted to 80.1 million tons. The EPA estimated that about 50% of that was recycled but only 13% of plastics were recycled (but the number is most likely under 10%).

“About half of all goods are now contained, cushioned, shrink-wrapped, blister-packed, clamshelled, or otherwise encased in some kind of plastic.” -Susan Freinkel, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

Many types of packaging are not recyclable. Even the ones that are recyclable are often not recycled. One solution is to avoid purchasing as many products in packaging as possible, something I often write about. You can read my post on going plastic-free with food consumption.

The sad truth is that branding and marketing often drive packaging design, rather than environmental issues. This is beginning to change, but not at a fast enough pace to keep up with the rate of consumer packaging disposal.

“More often than not, the perceived value of being ‘green’ is trumped by bottom-line costs.” -Daniel Imhoff, Paper or Plastic

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is advertising or promotions in which green marketing is deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization’s products, aims, and policies are environmentally friendly when they are not. Let’s call this what it is: this is false advertising. Here’s a video with excellent explanations:

I encourage you to read up on greenwashing because it’s everywhere!  Many companies participate in this practice. Remember the Volkswagen scandal? Volkswagen intentionally advertised low emissions vehicles but they actually equipped those vehicles with software that cheated emissions testing. Those vehicles emitted as much as 40 times the allowed amount of pollutants. While that’s an extreme example, this happens all of the time and it can be so subtle that you aren’t aware of it.

Please see my list on how to avoid greenwashing.

Consumers expect companies to dedicate themselves to making a positive social or environmental impact…they want to be able to trust them to prioritize ethics. – KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, founder and CEO of Sustainable Life Media, “Consumers Care,” The Future of Packaging

In my next post, I’ll detail some of these greenwashing terms, such as “biodegradable,” “compostable,” and “bioplastics”.

 

Thank you for reading! Please watch for future parts of this series by subscribing.

“If you want to eliminate waste in your life – and in the world – the answers will always come down to one simple thing: consume differently.” -Tom Szaky

 

Additional resource:

Article, “The cost of plastic packaging,” by Alexander H. Tullo, Chemical & Engineering News, October 17, 2016.

Goodbye Earth Fare, with Love

Earthfare's Hixson, Tennessee store opening
Earth Fare’s Hixson, Tennessee store opening, November 2016. Photo by me

If you haven’t heard already, Earth Fare is closing all of its stores, citing financial troubles. I was completely disheartened by this news! The company sent an email to its customers on Tuesday, writing “with a heavy heart” about the decision to close all the stores after 45 years.

We only have 3 healthy grocery stores in Chattanooga, Tennessee; two Earth Fare stores and one Whole Foods. We will now be down to one healthy grocery store in this region.* It is so disappointing that the southeast is unable to support more stores like these.

Unsafe and Toxic Ingredients

Earth Fare is a healthy and organic grocery store, one which does not sell foods that have a long list of unhealthy or potentially toxic ingredients in them. But here is their general food philosophy:

Earthfare's food philosophy banner

I created a free, downloadable pdf “List of unsafe, unhealthy and/or potentially toxic ingredients in food and products that you should avoid.” You can also view it here.

I was able to buy foods from the bulk bins in my own cloth bags and glass jars at Earth Fare in order to avoid buying plastic. I can do this at Whole Foods too, but again, Chattanooga is going from three stores down to only one that offers features like those.

I Will Miss Earth Fare

Earth Fare is personal for me and I will miss it. Earth Fare is where I shopped while on my journey of learning the value of healthy, natural foods and about the dangerous ingredients in our foods. When my son was born and was in the NICU for 2 weeks, there was an Earth Fare just down the road from the hospital and we ate many meals there during that difficult time. It was the grocery store where I bought organic ingredients to make homemade baby food. And it is still where I buy food to cook for our family.

I plan to shop at Whole Foods as they have a very similar food philosophy. However, they are more expensive than Earth Fare for many things. Also, the Whole Foods in Chattanooga is in a popular area of town so it’s often very busy and crowded, with an equally crowded parking lot.

In the end, life will go on. We have many large environmental and health issues to face! Please subscribe and we can learn together! Thanks for reading. And thanks, Earth Fare, I’m sad to see you go.

 

*I am aware that there is a Fresh Market in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They have a different mission than Whole Foods and Earth Fare. While I am not against shopping there, they do not offer all of the same food philosophies about ingredients.