I don’t remember the last time I bought plastic cling wrap. If I had to estimate, it’s been close to a decade, around when I started working for Treehugger and thinking about the environmental impact of single-use plastics.
I haven’t missed it. There was an adjustment period at first when I had to figure out how to store leftovers differently, but once I got the hang of it, I never really thought about cling wrap again–until my aunt pulled some out at Christmas and I watched in amazement as she covered dishes to stash in the fridge. I’d forgotten that’s what people do!
Living without cling wrap isn’t hard once you figure out some alternatives. Here’s how I manage.
Amass a collection of containers for storing leftovers. This does require an extra step of transferring food from the dish you cooked or served it in to a sealed container with a lid. (My aunt does not have such a collection, hence the reliance on cling wrap.)
Whenever I’m in a thrift store, I check the kitchen wares section and have been able to build a good collection of glass Pyrex containers with sturdy plastic snap-on lids. I also buy extras so that if I’m ever giving food away, I can put it in a thrifted container and not worry about needing it back because it cost so little.
Mason jars work well, too, and empty pickle or pasta sauce jars that have been washed out. Make sure you have a wide funnel to make pouring easier and cleaner—and the right-sized lids. All leftover cooking liquids, like diced tomatoes and coconut milk, get transferred to jars if I haven’t used the full amount in the can but know I can soon.
If I need to freeze something, like a half-can of tomato paste, I put a bit of parchment or foil over the top of the aluminum can, wrap an elastic around it, and stick it in the freezer. It thaws quickly in a dish of hot water. I also freeze surplus food in old, clean yogurt containers, though I’m careful not to add hot or acidic foods or thaw in hot water to avoid leaching chemicals.
If you can’t be bothered with transferring food to containers or there’s too much of it, you can cover serving dishes with upside-down dinner plates and stash in the fridge. Sometimes I use a tea towel to cover a bowl if I’m not concerned about something drying out—or I combine a tea towel with a dinner plate to provide an extra barrier.
Keep some sturdy ziplock bags on hand. I have the same three or four large bags that I’ve been reusing for the past year. I wash them with hot soapy water and dry between uses. They’re a good substitute for cling wrap whenever I need to keep something sealed that doesn’t fit into a container, like some discs of pie pastry that need to chill overnight. Sometimes I use an elastic to hold a ziplock or grocery bag over a bowl of slow-rising bread dough to prevent it from getting a dry crust, or I’ll flip a mixing bowl over a serving plate that’s holding something large, like a leftover birthday cake.
If I have to transport something like a quiche in a pie plate, I’ll slide it into a clean grocery bag and tie it tightly to keep it sealed.
For packing sandwiches in my kids’ lunches, I use stainless steel containers. In a pinch, a beeswax wrap or parchment paper will do, or a clean milk bag. (We live in Canada where milk is sold in bags that can be washed, dried, and reused indefinitely.)
When I have bits and pieces of food hanging around, like small chunks of cheese or peeled ginger root or extra cloves of garlic, they go into containers or clear glass ramekins with plastic lids so I can see what’s there.
Partially cut fruits and vegetables—like half a lemon, green pepper, or melon—I put upside down on a plate in the fridge where it’s the first thing I see every time I open the door; this helps me remember to use it quickly. I do the same with onions and have not had an issue with the smell, though it’s never in there for more than a day and I make sure the cut side is down.
Other people I know swear by silicone food bags and stretchy lid covers, but I don’t have much experience with those. I prefer to use what I have, as it does the job, saves money, and reduces clutter in the kitchen.
Cling wrap is not going to make or break the plastic pollution crisis—admittedly, there are far bigger sources of plastic waste out there—but it’s one of those simple things that you can learn to live without quite easily. Commit to not buying it anymore and you’ll figure out alternatives as you go.