Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Plastic-free food wrapping: simple and natural alternatives to reduce waste

I am determined to reduce the creation of plastic waste in our household.  It constantly surprises me, even in a household of conscious consumers with a big edible garden, how much plastic waste we produce. We have committed to making new steps each week to change this.

Long ago I abandoned the regular use of cling wrap.  As well as the environmental impact, I was concerned about the leaching of harmful chemicals into our food. I prefer to store food in lidded glass bowls, or in a bowl topped with a plate. I do have a selection of BPA-free containers - originally bought for lunchbox use, which are often used. But right now, I am loving beeswax infused cloths to wrap food.



We finally ran out of our huge pumpkin harvest, so needed to buy one from our local organic farmer at the Crystal Waters monthly market on Saturday. I'm so pleased he doesn't sell chopped pumpkins with plastic wrapping - just whole pumpkins in their natural wrapping (skin). Even with extra dinner guests on Saturday, we couldn't finish the entire pumpkin so I wrapped a beeswax infused cotton cloth around it to keep it fresh on the bench (too big for the fridge).  The beeswax wrap easily moulded to the shape of the pumpkin with the heat of my hand and will rinse off when the pumpkin is finished with it.

The eggplants are also huge at the moment - I used a smaller beeswax wrap for this.
I had seen these cloths in my local organic store for sometime and decided to give them a go. I love them and think they are a fabulous alternative to plastic food wrap.  I want lots more - to wrap the children's lunch items, to wrap cheese, to wrap the sliced end of sourdough bread and more.  This week's project is to make a whole lot more at home which will be a far more economic option. I have lots of funky cotton fabric offcuts I can chop up and a tub of organic beeswax I can use to infuse. I'll post some photos soon of how this goes.

The beeswax wraps help to cut down food waste too. They still let the food breathe but slow the rate of decomposition. Beeswax has been used for centuries to seal preserved foods, to wrap cheeses - it is one of nature's natural preservatives and has anti fungal, antiseptic, and antibacterial properties.

Other ways we have decided to reduce plastic wrapping is to avoid buying pre-bagged fruit and vegetables - for example bags of potatoes, apples or carrots, especially avoiding anything in cling-wrapped trays. It's just as easy to take a basket and select individual items. Buying directly from growers at farmers markets or through a box scheme can help to reduce packaging too.

I'm being very mindful of what items we are buying in and seeing if we perhaps could grow more in our own garden or substitute it for something else.  Our local farmer grows the best un-bagged carrots - they're huge! I'm happy to support his amazing efforts, but we definitely need to grow more potatoes and garlic.

Beautiful local carrots - and these are just the baby ones! The tops of carrots are totally edible too.
I'm also exploring ways to diminish other plastic wrapped items we commonly use - for example pasta and tofu. It is time I dusted off the pasta maker and learnt the art of tofu-making. I'm good for rice, quinoa, pulses, chia and the like. I can take home-made cloth bags to the local organic coop store and buy these by the scoop.  I particularly love getting the wholemeal Australian rain-fed rice.

Little by little we will reduce the waste going into our bins and therefore into the environment, and reduce our reliance on energy intensive production of plastics. Each step along the way is bringing so many more benefits too, such as wasting less food, buying less processed food, saving money, and eating more healthily. I think this is a really worthwhile household challenge.

14 comments:

  1. I am interested to see what other solutions you come up with since our waste in our bin is pretty much only plastic. I am trying to cut even that down as when I was a child we had no plastic bags nor did we buy things pre-wrapped. Plastic carriers here are now charged for not that I use them having lived in France for a few years where they were not offered and I have a collection of washable cotton bags and use those for pretty much everything. I can't find loose dried goods here - maybe it's something to do with health and safety as they used to be available in health food stores. Keep up the good work although sometimes I despair when I see the mountains of waste of all kinds on TV programmes such as Simon Reeves Greece which I watched last night. Still as they say "every little helps"!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a wonderful way to have grown up. Sets the standard for what is possible. Plastic is just so 'normal' now - I think many kids don't know there's another way. This is why I am so excited to be exploring this challenge deeply with my kids. It is also my experience of plastic waste pile-ups in Indonesia and India that has motivated me. Here in Australia we conveniently hide away most of the rubbish in landfill, but the problem has not gone away. In other places where the municipal waste systems are not developed, the waste just keeps collecting on roadsides, rivers, streams - or is burnt creating toxic air pollution. The problem of plastic is so 'in your face' there that it forces you to rethink and commit to doing things differently.

      Delete
    2. Another way to reduce plastic waste is to organise a bulk buying group - with extended family, with friends, with neighbours, with work colleagues, with a school community... Some time ago, when I lived in the city, I organised a bulk food group. We ordered bulk goods in 10-25kg sacks. The sacks were usually compostable. Everyone came over once a month with their reusable containers to help measure out the produce. It was great fun, a super social connection between people with similar interests. We sometimes also had a shared meal. I was also part of a group that linked directly with a local farmer. Once every 6 months it was our turn to pick up the produce for all the families and bring it back to a meeting point to share out together. Again, there was almost no plastic to be seen - and lots of laughter and lasting friendships made.

      Delete
  2. Hi Morag:) I have a few food wraps and covers and a growing collection of glass Pyrex containers that I buy when they come on special at the shop. I bought pumpkin at Northey Street on Sunday just past and it was cut but no plastic wrap in sight. Hooray!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's so wonderful to visit food markets without plastic - not be offered plastic bags - not have everything pre-wrapped in plastic. I love the Northey Street City Farm organic farmers market. That's where I'd be every Sunday if I lived in Brisbane - for the food and the community.

      Delete
  3. Hi Morag,
    You'll be glad to know after experimenting last issue with having Pip Magazine sent out by the printer, each one wrapped in 'biodegradable' plastic, this issue we have gone back to hand packing each magazine in recycled paper envelopes. I really don't want to be responsible for adding anymore plastic into peoples lives.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Congratulations Robyn - that's so fantastic. How revolutionary!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have never heard of beeswax infused cloths. What a great idea, they will definitely be added to my kitchen.
    I now put my leftovers in a soup bowl with a plate on top. I used to automatically put a film of cling wrap over it, but there must be plenty of other ways I cut out cling wrap using beeswax cloths.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love using a plate on a bowl too - except we've managed to smash quite a few plates this way! They get accidentally knocked off by over-enthusiastic young kitchen helpers

      Delete
  6. Hello from Tassie. Would love to get some of those wraps.......they are a little expensive. However the glass bowl with lids sounds like a great alternative. We do try and limit the use of glad wrap.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello in Tassie - hope you managed to stay clear of all those bushfires lately.

      I'm about to write about how simple it was to make my own beeswax cloths - much much cheaper way and not difficult.

      Delete
  7. Salad Greens. That is my challenge as a farmer. How to package baby greens. We cannot allow customers to fill their own containers from bulk bins by rules of the Health Authority. Any suggestions that maintain quality, display well, will travel well with customers?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Although not perfect, corn starch bags may be accepted by the authorities. I say not perfect because it's still a one time use product and one can discuss if the corn production used for this is organic, how much energy is used to produce them and so on - but it would be one step away from plastic at least.

      Delete
  8. The beeswax cloths are awesome! However, you have to watch out of well meaning guests who think their stiffness is a sign of a dishrag that has never been laundered...thus deciding to throw them out.

    ReplyDelete