At Brightly, we talk a lot about how reducing food waste can effectively decrease your environmental impact. That means learning how to keep your produce fresh, meal prepping, and discovering ways to compost food scraps at home. However, most of the time, we choose to save leftovers for later.
What many of us don’t realize is the environmental impact of what we’re saving our food in. While we recommend using reusable containers or reusable storage bags, it’s true that many of us still opt for the most convenient option: plastic cling wrap.
Plastic cling wrap is common: About 5.3 million Americans used 10 or more rolls of plastic wrap in 2020 alone. And this doesn’t include the amount used in the food industry.
Below, we discuss the environmental impact of plastic wrap—plus, an eco-friendly alternative to use instead.
What Is Plastic Wrap?
When we say plastic wrap, we’re usually referring to industrial plastic wrap or food-grade plastic cling wrap. Food-grade plastic wrap is also known as cling film, food wrap, and Saran wrap, and it’s used to preserve food either to save for later or to transport.
Plastic wrap is predominantly made of polyvinylidene chloride, or PVC, according to U.S. Packaging and Wrapping LLC. However, PVC alternatives have become more popular. Specifically, low-density polyethylene, or LDPE, because it’s known to be safer for humans. In 2004, one of the most well-known brands, Saran, changed its cling film to LDPE due to the issues with the chloride associated with PVC.
The plastic cling wrap is clingy, as its name suggests, so it sticks together to form a tight wrap. But because Saran switched to LDPE, the wrap isn’t as clingy as it once was. However, not all plastic wrap brands use LDPE.
Is Plastic Wrap Recyclable?
Because plastic cling wrap is clingy and contains PVC, it cannot be reused. It’s a single-use item that must be disposed of—and when we dispose of it, we may be unknowingly contaminating other items in the trash with it.
Cling film is typically made of #2 and #4 plastics, and both are recyclable. However, actually recycling your used plastic wrap isn’t recommended or accepted in many curbside programs because it often contains liquid or food residue that can contaminate the recycling process.
If the cling film is completely dry and clean, it can be recycled—but you’ll still have to check with your local recycling facility to be sure it accepts plastic wrap. If not, you may need to find a drop-off location.
When sent to the landfill, plastic in the form of cling film can take about 450 years to decompose. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), landfills received 27 million tons of plastic in 2018 alone.
It’s also important to note the overall impact plastic has on the environment. According to National Geographic, about 91% of plastics don’t actually get recycled, even if the plastics are recyclable. And when we don’t correctly recycle plastic, those products won’t properly biodegrade.
Plus, PVC specifically contains chemical additives such as phthalates, lead, cadmium, or organotins, according to the New Jersey Department of Human Services. These chemicals are toxic to the environment, wildlife, and humans.
What to Use Instead of Plastic Wrap
Not sure what to trade your plastic cling wrap in for? Try Reusable Beeswax Food Wraps. These reusable food wraps are super cute and sustainable, as they eliminate the need for single-use plastic wrap that might end up in the trash.
Beeswax food wraps are great for covering leftovers, bread, fruit, and more. Simply use it to cover plates, containers, and Mason jars, and see how easily they keep your favorite foods fresh for later.
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