CLING FILM / SARAN WRAP

This hideous invention goes by a number of names – plastic wrap, shrink wrap,  food wrap, and yes, I do have a roll of it in the kitchen. It’s our very last roll. It’s been there since before Christmas 2016, because I hardly ever use the stuff these days. I clearly remember purchasing it because I also bought a cling film dispenser (also plastic) that meant you could cut a nice clean edge on it.

“How handy!” I thought. I now think, “What a twat I was!”

So if you have a roll of this stuff, please, let it be your last too.

But my food will go off!

Indeed. When exposed to air, moisture, light, and warmth, food will go off. Microorganisms – fungi, bacteria, mould, yeast etc., break food down for their own benefit. The presence of oxygen will simply accelerate the work of these busy little bees, which is why we need to cover food.

So why say no cling film?

The usual problem…

Yes, it’s plastic. Single use plastic. You use it once. Then you chuck it away. (Yes, I’ve tried washing it but that’s not the answer.)

According to a case study done at the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, “the average person produces half a pound of plastic waste every day.” Phew.

A lot of that plastic gets washed into the ocean. Scientists from the Sea Education Society estimate that there are 580,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of the Atlantic, which is a depressing thought.

After it has bobbed about in the sea for a while, plastic starts to absorb the smell of food, with the result that seabirds, fish and sea mammals think it’s food.

Take seabirds, for instance. They have evolved over millennia the ability to sniff out krill, the shrimplike crustacean that lives in the oceans in the Southern hemisphere in such millions. Krill emit a strong, sulphurous smell of dimethyl sulfide (DMS). This smell comes from the algae that krill eat, which also smells of DMS.

Well, wouldn’t ya just know that our plastic waste is a perfect place for that algae to thrive. So sea birds, whales and other marine life gobble up these pieces of plastic, mistaking them for krill. Scientists have described this as an “olfactory trap” which is causing marine death on a massive, unimaginable scale.

And then we eat the fish which are full of microplastics.

This picture comes from a surfing website called inertia.com – since they care enough to publish it in the first place, I hope they don’t mind me pinching it.

Danger to humans

Plastic is made to last for ever.

Yes, that’s for ever. As it breaks down into ever smaller and smaller pieces, it becomes invisible to the naked eye. But it is still there. We are eating it and taking it in in our drinking water. Americans, for instance, gobble down between 39000 to 52000 microscopic particles of plastic per year. Yikes.

And it’s not just in the sea. In the Pyrenees, a scientific study discovered that there were 365 microplastic particles per square metre falling out of the sky every day. And yet the Pyrenees is supposed to be a relatively pristine area, lightly populated, with no industry to speak of. It’s at least 100k from any obvious source of microplastics. So we’re breathing them in as well as eating them. Yikes, yikes, and thrice yikes…

Ah, the gorgeous fresh air! And all those lovely, invisible microplasics…
Photo of the Pyrenees by Michael Liao on Unsplash

It gets worse

There’s something even more scary than microplastics, and that’s nanoplastics. As plastic goes on degrading and shredding, the particles get tinier and tinier. It’s reckoned that a billion nanoplastics can fit on the head of a pin. Science is only just catching up with these babies.

Studies have shown that when aquatic organisms ingest nanoplastics made of polystyrene, these can be passed through cell walls. What will happen when those nanoplastics accumulate in our lungs, in our blood vessels, in our brains?  

In a recent TED talk by Australian mega-businessman, philanthropist and marine ecologist, Andrew Forrest PhD, he described plastic as “an incredible substance designed for the economy… the worst substance possible for the environment… it never stops being plastic.”

He goes further, and it’s worth quoting him at some length because he’s done the science and can explain it better than I can. (And his sister’s a very old pal of mine and I know he won’t mind.)

“The breaking science on this… which we’ve known in marine ecology for a few years now… Nanoplastics… the very, very small particles of plastic, carrying their negative charge, can go straight through the pores of your skin. That’s not the bad news. The bad news is that it goes straight through the blood-brain barrier, that protective coating which is there to protect your brain.”

“Your brain’s a little, amorphous, wet mass full of little electrical charges. You put a negative particle into that, particularly a negative particle which can carry pathogens – so you have a negative charge, it attracts positive-charge elements, like pathogens, toxins, mercury, lead. That’s the breaking science
we’re going to see in the next 12 months.”

So do you still fancy using one-off plastics?

Recycling?

Sorry, but that just doesn’t happen with shrink wrap. Firstly, it clogs the machines. Secondly, you can’t recycle it with plastic bags at the supermarket because removing the phthalates, the various complex chemicals that render the cling film stretchy, is impossible.

Anyhow, recycling plastic merely delays the eventual moment when the stuff hits landfill, because plastic can only be recycled so many times. Aluminium, on the other hand, can be recycled an infinite number of times.

Hurrah for tinfoil!

More…

There is SO much more I could say about plastic, but I’ve depressed myself enough for one day. I’ll save it for another piece. Let me leave you with a question, however. If turmeric and paprika can leave ineradicable stains, and other foods leave their smells in plastic containers, it suggests that plastics aren’t as impermeable as you might assume.

So if plastic can absorb colour and smell, can the chemical transfer can also go the other way? How certain can we be that the chemicals used to make the plastics aren’t leaching into our food? After all, manufacturers of plastics are not required to declare what additives are contained in any plastic, and there are literally thousands of those possible additives.

Wouldn’t it be better to wrap leftovers in greaseproof paper or foil? Or in a bowl covered with a plate? Or even in a lidded plastic box you can use time and again?

Meanwhile, the celebrated primatologist and general good-eco-egg, Jane Goodall, said, “Every single person makes some impact on the planet every day.”

Could you let today’s impact be a resolve never to buy cling film again?

Endpiece

Once more, apologies for the intermittent nature of this blog. I’d set myself the task of publishing one every two weeks, but lately I have been chained to the piano, trying to write new material for my next theatre show. And to be honest, it’s tough work, reading and distilling all the research needed to back up my case. Much of the time, I feel I’m whistling in the wind and it’s just pointless, but then I think, perhaps if enough of us whistle in the wind, we might just be heard and start to make a difference.

So please do share this with friends and family. If you enter your email address and click on the blue follow button, you’ll get an email every time I publish a new piece, which is not more than once every two weeks. I promise you won’t get smothered in unwanted emails!

Unnecessary dog picture

Meanwhile, since we all need cheering after that diatribe about plastics, here is the mutt looking particularly feral after rolling in the hay.

Miss Pips. Sent by providence to cheer me up at all times.

16 thoughts on “CLING FILM / SARAN WRAP

  1. Eeek!…I live in the Pyrenees (looks up sky for signs of falling bits of plastic).

    I’m afraid I use cling film all the time, especially wrapping it round the end of a half used cucumber, half eaten tomato etc. I had in mind that I was being eco friendly by ensuring minimum food wastage. The chickens get the nubbins.

    However, I shall try to minimise my usage and turn to aluminium foil. When I was young and lived in poverty, my mum used to have a draw of flattened-out used aluminium foil (this was pre-clingfilm days). Madness, but it has left me with the psychological belief that foil is pricey and a luxury!

    Love the picture of Miss Pips. The straw reminds me that I must go out and feed the chicks and liberate them from their coop.

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    • Wax wrappers are useful, except I can never remember what’s inside them! I put cut tomatoes on a saucer, cut side down, seems to work… and you can of course use the pieces of foil again…

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  2. For keeping flies etc off as-yet-unfinished food, Mrs A uses those cheap shower caps you get in hotels. Fit perfectly over a dinner plate and are, obviously, washable. xr

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  3. We use wax wrap, but we make our own: cut cloth to size, put on a stainless baking tray with a scattering of beeswax chips (ebay, really affordable) 80 degrees for a few mins, brush in melted wax, ( keep any excess for future use), cool, and…. cool. Haven’t used clingfilm for ages now.

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  4. Your blogs are wonderful! Thank you.
    To cheer you up a little: today I’ve made 33 bees wax wraps which I’m making no profit on and selling at a pittance to raise money for my sons preschool in the hope that it will also reduce unnecessary plastic use.
    To cheer you up a little more: see you in Oxford in April!

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    • Oh thank you Penny! I get very downcast at the state of the world, but nice comments like yours buck me up no end. I hope your wax wrappers are duly snapped up by grateful folk who realise that they must turn their back on single use plastic. Actually, it would be even better if we all turned our back on all plastic, but I have set myself a rule on this blog to target what I believe is easily achievable. See you in Oxford!

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  5. My late Mother would chip in here with “just use waxed paper”, but it isn’t easy to find these days and, big drawback, it doesn’t ahere to surfaces. You need a drawer fuller of rubber bands to hold it on the tops of bowls. But you can reuse it. Since Dow Chemicals introduced it commercially in the late ’40s “Saran Wrap” aka cling film et al, has driven other food wraps essentially out of the market. Anything environmentally friendly that would replace it, has to have at least its attractive characteristics – wrapping the left over cucumber is the classic. Meanwhile lidded plastic (!) food boxes, which at least have multiple uses, come in all shapes and sizes and would work fine for halves of cucumbers if I could be disciplined enough to do that. The nanoplastics crossing the blood-brain barrier is today’s scary fact.

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  6. Where do you live, Andrew? My nearest shops are in Bicester which is very unsophisticated, and I have no trouble getting greaseproof paper. Wax wrappers are becoming more common, see Penny’s comment above. And I have a large collection of Lakeland stackable boxes https://www.lakeland.co.uk/15651/10-Stack-a-Boxes-Food-Storage-Containers-1-2L – small, medium and large, I swear by them. Anyhow, thanks very much for commenting, feedback is great. But you’re right about the nanoplastics – it’s really terrifying stuff.

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  7. Interestingly I’ve just been watching a programme about Sainsbury’s. They have seen an increase in customers sending back non-recyclable plastics, they’ve also removed single use plastics from their fruit and veg aisles.

    Every small step towards a plastic free (where at all possible) is still a step in the right direction. Its along road, but I am on the road with you.

    (waves to Dillie from Aylesbury)

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  8. Yes, it’s definitely time I started doing that in our Sainsbuggers. Here’s to a plastic free life! (If only…). Waving to you from somewhere north of Bicester!

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  9. Unfortunately I had to use a couple of rolls of cling film over 4 months a few years ago as it was the only way I could keep my pic line dry whist showering during my chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer . I’ve never used it since and never will. Beeswax covers are the future for definite and will cling to any container or plate if you just warm them slightly.
    Look forward to seeing you on tour again soon and keep blogging x

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    • Oh, of course medical use is rather different and keeping yourself clean during a difficult time is essential for mental well being. I’d do exactly the same. Thanks for your contribution, I so appreciate it when people take the trouble to write.

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