Of all single-use plastic items, clingwrap is the most frustrating. Yes, I know plastic straws are also a contender for the number 1 stop – but we have the option to refuse, or rinse and recycle. And clean plastic bags in packaging can at least be recycled as well. But clingfilm? You are literally stuck with no option but the trash can!
I started my plastic-reduction journey a few years ago, and by now it is second nature for me to carry a folded shopping bag in my handbag and I don’t recall the last time I purchased bottled water. I steadfastly refuse plastic straws (though ever so often forgetful staff hand it to me with the juice anyway!). And of course, I always carry my own grocery bags.
This time for #PlasticFreeJuly, I decided to take particular aim at the clingwrap use in my household, as it is not only a single-use item, it is also a non-recyclable in Singapore. My plan of action – go cold turkey!
If you’re reading thus far, I guess you too are wondering if I managed to succeed in my resolve… So how easy or tough was it? And who won in Me versus Clingwrap? Let me begin with the good news:
Venue 1 – Homeground: I’m the winner!
To be honest, this was easy. I put my clingwrap away from the drawer into an unreachable high kitchen shelf, and that was all it took to break the habit. Like a packet of chips which is easiest to avoid if it not purchased at all, the clingwrap is a bad habit that is easily discarded when the box goes missing! I was forced to look for alternatives, and I found many – my collection of steel plates, plastic lids, glass lids, even cloth lids – all came into play to bridge the gap.
Here’s a ready reckoner of alternatives to clingwrap that you probably have lying around the house too. And if you don’t, the list may direct you into the direction of things worth investing in!
This is as old school as it gets. It’s what my mom did to cover up those leftovers when I was a kid – just added a plate on top – and now I follow her footsteps. Luckily, I have quite a few small-sized steel plates in my kitchen. They’ve always been handy to hold peels as I prep the food, or park spatulas as I cook. Now, since they are strong, I find them especially useful to stack up stuff in a bursting fridge shelf.
I purchased a set of these at an eco-fair from Neis Haus a while back, and I use them not just for food, but also for liquids. The elastic on the side makes them useful for irregularly sized bowls that my plates can’t cover – such as these ceramic pourers!
I’ve always stored cheese in clingwrap, under the assumption that it must be kept tightly wrapped to avoid sweating and mould. So when I had to leave clingwrap, I first turned to google to figure out alternatives. Voila! Turns out muslin is actually a better alternative, as it lets the cheese breathe – this option worked perfectly for me. If you have a strong-smelling cheese, you could additionally put the muslin-wrapped brick in a closed container.
As an Indian household, my other challenge was to find a suitable cover for kneaded dough. We regularly cook rotis/chapattis, so there is always spare dough in the fridge – clingwrap is great at delaying the hardening of the outer surface (as it beats contact with air). For this again, muslin worked well – just dampen it first before wrapping up the extra dough.
And finally, muslin – or frankly any cotton cloth napkin – is great for storing old sandwiches, or packing fresh ones into the lunchbox!
Wondering where to get this magic cloth? I got my plain whites from India, and I reckon textile stores should carry some. For ease, you can find it in various Japanese stores – look for tenugui. For an even softer muslin, look up swaddling cloths at Mothercare – pricey but gorgeous!
All kitchen drawers store lids that are unintentionally collected over the years, and mine is no exception: the ceramic bowl that broke and left behind a lid, the disposable container cover from the chicken rice I tapao-ed, silicone covers that belong to tea cups… there is more than enough to make up for a missing clingwrap on any occasion!
I invested in some Daiso steel containers that I have grown to love already – great to store half-onions and quarter-tomatoes and what-not in separate units and stack them up in the fridge!
Separately, I invested in some lovely lidded ceramics in various sizes – this way, the “serveware” doubles up as “storage”, and can be used in the microwave too. This reduces my washing load, cleanup load, and clingwrap load all in the same shot! If you would like to pick up something similar, again it is the Japanese that lead the way – I got my finds at Takashimaya and iSetan.
I am adding beeswax wrap to this list as it is another option worth exploring – but I didn’t use this as I’m not a fan of its sticky texture. If you really need an airtight covering – this seems to be a good option. For me, it helps that I grew up in a time and in a household where “airtightness” was not so sacrosanct as it is today. My mom used to put cut veggies in a bowl and cover them up, not thinking so much that half a cucumber had to be tightly bound to live longer. Returning to this mindset means I just need lesser things to cover up!
…And now confession time – I did face my nemesis – and that was the raw meat, where the airtightness idea wouldn’t loosen its hold on my mind. We aren’t big meat eaters in our household, and so, for instance, 1 single salmon is cut into quarters before we freeze it for future piece-wise use. If I don’t cut up the salmon, I’d have to defrost it all and end up with too large a portion for lunch. If I cascade the cut salmon together in a box, the pieces would freeze and stick together. Clingwrap is great for individually packing the salmon chunks… and I ended up doing just that 🙁
In hindsight, I could have wrapped it in muslin and stored in a box in the freezer – but still, the idea of reusing cloth that stores meat doesn’t seem the best idea. Perhaps I could have used baking paper – but on further research, it seems baking sheets aren’t plastic free [they have a silicone coating]. Perhaps I should go ahead with foil? At least the metal can be recovered after incineration (that’s the process that Singapore’s waste disposal goes through]. Anyone out there with suggestions? I’d love to know what you do -please leave a comment below!
Overall though, I think I managed the pledge fairly at home ground. Apart from the one time when I lost to salmon, it was easier than I expected!
Venue 2 – Supermarket: I lose, shamefacedly!
Supermarkets frustrated me time and again throughout July. And even I frustrated myself when I, so used to picking certain foods in familiar aisles, ended up adding cling-wrapped food to my trolley on an auto-pilot mode of shopping. The first shopping trip of July, I made several errors – it was only while removing the packaging that I realised how I’d overlooked the clingfilms – on cabbages, mushrooms, lime,… and yes, the cut of salmon! Clingfilm is so ubiquitous that unless one makes a special, concentrated effort to avoid it, it will certainly find a way into the shopping bag.
On my second shopping trip (and thereafter) I was more mindful and strong-willed. And that’s when I realised the paucity of options for a shopper like me – wanting to avoid plastic, but without the time to add a wet-market visit into my schedule. Already I juggle between NTUC for staples, Cold Storage for meat, a local Indian store for niche items and iHerb for superfoods/organics. If I have to add another market to my list, I need to start giving up on work!
So instead of giving up on work, I simply gave up on buying cut fruit, minced pork, sausages and chicken all through July. I have no idea where and how to buy these conveniently without packaging in small quantities.
Other times I gave up on the pledge – and purchased goods with their clingfilm packaging because I didn’t have the bandwidth to go hunting for a cling-film free cabbage and mushroom!
Clearly, I don’t have a long term solution (yet) when it comes to stopping out-of-home clingwrap use. But given the ease with which I could manage in-house clingwrap use – I do believe that producers and supermarkets CAN and SHOULD do a much better job in avoiding styrofoams and clingwraps! Consumer action is NOT enough to drive single-use plastic to zero – we need supermarkets, shops, suppliers to play a part in the solution.
And perhaps we can move them by starting to play our part in the solution – our part as CONSUMERS asking for package-free foods; and our part as CITIZENS demanding reduced packaging waste.