As we prepare and store food from our garden, it is easy to use plastics like cling wrap for storage. However, cling wrap has been shown to have potential adverse health effects for people, especially when it is touching foods with a high fat content (like cheese, for example). Our society is also coming to an awareness of the damage that discarded, single-use plastic packaging has on ecosystems including the oceans. Can we wean ourselves off disposable plastic packaging in small and large ways? Can we do so in a way that is pleasing, DIY, locally-sourced and biodegradable?
Through contacts with local social enterprise beekeepers, Hives for Humanity, Orchard Garden team members brought ideas for homemade beeswax food wraps to one of our Saturday Workshops.
Here are the instructions for one simple way of making these fragrant and useful food wraps — this one using an iron and parchment paper. Alternate methods can also be found for making these in the oven or using an electric frying pan to melt the wax.
An Alternative to Cling Wrap: Beeswax Food Wraps
You can make these using local beeswax (we used lovely wax from Hives for Humanity) , coconut oil, parchment paper, cotton cloth and an iron on a low setting. It’s easy, fragrant and fun to make, and the waxed cloth food wrap can be washed in warm soapy water and reused for about a year. After a year, either rewax the cloth or compost it!
- Don’t use beeswax food wraps for raw meat (too easy for it to be contaminated by microorganisms from the meat).
- Do use it for cheese! Beeswax wrap is much better than plastic for storing cheese as it breathes. Cheese is far less likely to go moldy in beeswax wraps than in plastic.
- You can sew or fold the beeswax wrap into a sandwich bag, and even add a button or two and a piece of twine to hold it secure.
- Beeswax wraps can be custom made to fit bowls, and can be secured over a bowl with a rubber band.
Things you’ll need
- cotton material: thin, smooth 100% cotton is best. You can recycle a sheet or duvet cover, or buy cotton fabric. (Cheesecloth may be a bit too loosely-woven to work well.)
- pinking shears for unfrayed edges
- parchment paper (large roll, 15″ wide, works best)
- beeswax block or pellets
- grater to grate beeswax (keep this as your devoted beeswax grater as it’s hard to get it clean enough to use for food later
- small amount of coconut oil or jojoba oil
- old towels
Cut square of cotton fabric with pinking shears. Suggested sizes: approx. 8”X8”, 12”X12”, larger squares or rounds to cover bowls.
On a sturdy tabletop or ironing board, layer an old towel, large sheet of parchment paper (not waxed paper!) that is bigger than your food wrap cloth, and then the square of cotton fabric.
Grate beeswax or use beeswax pellets (I’ve seen these at Whole Foods on Cambie). Sprinkle on your square of fabric. Add approx. ½ teaspoon of coconut oil or jojoba oil, dabbed or sprinkled evenly around the fabric square.
Cover the square of cloth and wax/ oil with a second large sheet of parchment paper. With iron on medium-low temperature setting, iron the fabric square through the parchment paper to melt the wax.
Peel back the top layer of parchment paper, let the wax cool for a minute, then check for areas that did not get completely covered by melted wax. Grate a bit more beeswax and repeat the process to melt the wax on the cloth.
Voilà! You have made your first beeswax food wrap, at a fraction of the cost of commercially-produced wraps (although Abeego , made in Victoria, is very good too).
Some people advocate adding a small amount of food-grade grated pine resin to the recipe to make the beeswax food wrap a bit stickier (like cling wrap). There is some debate about whether pine resin is healthy. But beyond that, it’s not hard to make your wrap stick better. Just crumple your food wrap up in your hand and warm up the wax with the warmth of your hands. After that, it will stick better while it’s warm!
Invitation to consider possible extensions:
Think with your students about disposable, non-compostable things in our everyday lives in the garden, kitchen, classroom and other areas of our experiences. What was used for these purposes before the widespread advent of plastics (mostly since the 1950s)? Are there traditions we can draw on to carry out these functions in more sustainable ways? Awareness and knowledge can lead to some experimentation in making and using more locally-sourced, DIY items and systems in our day-to-day lives to reduce environmental damage and add enjoyment and a sense of capability to our lives.
Some guiding questions:
- What practices in our everyday lives might be harmful to our own health and that of ecosystems? What alternative ways would be healthier, more pleasing and would let us be the makers of things we need, from local sources?
- Are there people in your community working with more sustainable practices and materials for living? They might be elders, young people, artists, environmentalists, students, teachers, parents, scientists, business people… Their heritage might be Indigenous, traditions from many cultures, a willingness to work cross-culturally or experimentally, etc. Could your inquiry into more sustainable living practices extend into the community and to community mentors of all ages?
- What local materials might you draw on? What are ethical, respectful and sustainable ways of gathering materials? For example, you may not want to strip all the leaves or branches from a plant, or raid and deplete a patch of wild plants in foraging it. First Nations protocols are a good starting point for asking permission and showing respect as you gather materials.