The cost of being eco: replacing cling film

2 min • 21 Jun 2021
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**Lauren Bravo explores the options and the costs for replacing cling film with an environmentally friendly alternative

While we all know that leftovers can play a vital part in the fight against food waste, cling film has a bad (w)rap for a reason.

Most commonly made from polyvinyl chloride (better known as PVC), the kitchen hero is an environmental villain, taking decades to break down in landfill and posing a serious threat to marine life when it ends up – as more than eight million tonnes of single-use plastic does every year – in the ocean. It’s been estimated that more than 1.2 billion metres of cling film is used by British households every year alone; enough to go around the circumference of the earth 30 times over.

What’s the alternative?

But while the true planetary cost of single-use plastic remains to be seen, could switching to a reusable option save your pennies as well as your conscience?

Plastic-free and compostable, beeswax wraps are one of the most popular cling film alternatives on the market. Generally made from cotton with a coating of beeswax and other oils, the cloth becomes pliable with the warmth of your hands, allowing you to mould it around food and over the tops of bowls and containers. Once the preserve of eye-wateringly expensive homeware boutiques, more affordable food wraps can now be found in supermarkets and widely across the internet.

The cost of wax wrap

A pack of three or four wraps in assorted sizes will usually set you back around £10, while the cheapest roll of wax wrap we could find was £7.99 for one metre. Manufacturers like BeeBee and The Beeswax Wrap Co. say their wraps will last for at least a year, or longer if they’re cared for well. This means that at around £1.25 for a small 25m roll (5p a metre), you’d need to be going through at least eight rolls of cling film a year (or one roll every six weeks) to make a saving.

Like most reusable products, the longer you keep your wax wraps in action, the more economical they become. If you’re feeling crafty, you can even use a beeswax block (£3-£10) and some spare fabric to make your own. There could be knock-on savings too; in a Which? trial, food stayed fresher for longer using wax wraps than cling film or foil.

The drawbacks

But there are other drawbacks. Beeswax isn’t suitable for vegans, although plant-based versions are becoming more widely available. They shouldn’t be used on raw meat or fish, put in the microwave or wrapped around anything hot, and it’s recommended that you ‘refresh’ the wraps every few months by re-melting the wax in a low oven. It’s an investment in more ways than one – although if you’ve ever tried to find the end of a mangled roll, you’ll know cling film isn’t without its frustrations either.

Other options to explore

Also on the market these days is compostable cling film, like this one made from sugar cane, which breaks down within 12 months on a compost heap – but at £3.89 for 30m (12p per metre) it could stretch the budget.

Then there are bowl covers, made either from elasticated cotton (like a shower cap) or stretchy food-grade silicone. The former is plastic-free but the latter, while synthetic, has the advantage of being easy to clean and creating an airtight seal around your leftovers. Prices vary but they’re comparable to wax wraps – Lakeland sells a pack of six for £7.49, and Etsy has numerous options for under a tenner.

And of course, the cheapest option of all is to do what our grandparents did and save empty jars and tubs to store food, killing two (metaphorical) birds while sparing the planet more waste.

PS. Unlike cling film, aluminium foil can at least be recycled in many local authorities. So if you’re deliberating between the two, there’s your answer.

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