A quest to reduce plastic
The fall is an exciting time — leaves are changing colour, temperatures get cooler, and the diverse bounty of fruits and vegetables coming into season are any foodies’ dream. With all of that extra produce, how do you keep it fresh?
As consumers, we’ve developed certain expectations about how a food container should perform. Ideally, we want it to keep our food fresh and crisp for an extended period, and create a barrier to prevent our fresh fruits and veggies from dehydrating and developing mold. Whether it’s a container or a cling wrap, plastic does a great job of this.
However as consumers learn more about the damaging impact of plastic — especially single-use plastic — and recycling of plastics becomes more challenging, we start to seek out plastic alternatives. However, any environmentally friendly product must be able to meet our expectations for performance, or else will quickly be discarded. With this in mind, we decided to compare the performance of common storage options against environmentally friendly alternatives.
The Environmentally Friendly Alternatives
We’ve carried Food Huggers at the co-op for a while. We’ve always liked Food Huggers for fruits and veggies since they are made of silicone and fit snugly over the end of cut produce.
Also becoming more popular, and now available at the co-op, are beeswax wraps. Beeswax wraps are often advertised as an alternative to plastic wrap, since they have the same flexibility and ability to stick to themselves as well as containers. With rising concerns over bee populations, these have become increasingly popular as a means to support honeybees while reducing our environmental footprint.
We tested out 4 food storage options: plastic wrap, plastic containers, silicone caps (Food Huggers), and beeswax wraps. We tested these on 3 of the most popular fruits and vegetables in Ontario: tomato, red pepper, and cucumber. The 12 items were randomly arranged in my fridge to make sure the test wasn’t affected by hot or cold spots. The items were left for one week, and then we did a visual test to see how well each storage method held up.
The proof is in the pudding, as it were! From the photos above you can see right away how each of the storage methods performed. We were extremely pleased that our silicone caps seemed to hold up just as well as the plastic wrap or plastic containers.
However, the beeswax wraps were disappointing. All of the produce stored in the beeswax wraps dried out over the course of the week.
What was the story here? How could we advertise beeswax wraps as an alternative to cling wrap when they didn’t perform nearly as well?
The Plot Thickens…
We decided to go back into research mode and dig deeper into the world of beeswax wraps. We’d taken it on faith that they would perform the same as cling wrap since that’s what so many companies advertise. However when we looked further into information from these websites, we found some small, but impactful differences.
First of all, beeswax wraps are breathable. Unlike plastic wrap or silicone that creates an impassable barrier, air can reach whatever you’re storing. It suddenly became obvious why our beeswax wrap covered products had dried out so much!
Second, when you read up on how to use beeswax wraps, they do recommend that you mainly use them for dry items like cheese and nuts. And if you use them for items that have a high water content (eg fruits and vegetables) that you only store them for a day or two.
So… I shouldn’t use beeswax wraps?
We’re not saying beeswax wraps are bad — you should definitely use them! They can be a great alternative — in some cases. I really like them for covering bowls when I’m putting leftovers in the fridge. They’re also great for drier items like cheese and onions. Since they stick to themselves, they can be folded to make a tidy little packet and can make a good option for your lunch storage like a sandwich or nuts. In every case, and especially if you’re going to be using them for juicier items, try to eat up whatever they’re holding within a day or two.
If you’re like me though, and it takes you a full week to eat a tomato, we highly recommend the silicone caps. Their small, compact, fit-inside one another format and great performance keeping produce fresh are the reasons they continue to be one of our favourite items.
What about non-produce products?
When we have this conversation with our customers, they inevitably ask “what about bread?” This is an area we would like to look into in the future and luckily brands are stepping up to try to fill this niche. Quebec-based Dans le Sac carries an organic cotton “bread bag”, and there are certain sizes of beeswax wraps that are big enough to cover bread. Since both of these products are breathable, it begs the question of whether or not the bread becomes stale or moldy quickly. It’s something we would like to look into, but also if you have any experience with these or similar products we would love to hear from you! We’re always looking for new ways to meet our customers’ needs, and product recommendations from people who have first-hand experience are often key to us carrying a new product.
At the Avocado Co-op we work with our members to research, test, and source great eco-friendly products and sell them all in one place. You can order monthly and we deliver to your door. Sign up to our newsletter to get updates and more useful articles like this in your inbox.