We know that clingfilm and plastic ziplock bags are environmentally unfriendly, but what are the alternatives? What other storage options are worth investing in?
Jane, London N4
“You’ve got to have zero tolerance for everything to do with plastic, whether that’s in the house or what’s coming into the house,” says chef Ollie Hunter, who runs The Wheatsheaf, a sustainable pub in Wiltshire. But when it comes to eco-friendly replacements, it’s worth remembering that new isn’t always better: “I’m a purist,” says Hunter. “Let’s just reuse what we’ve already taken out of the planet.” He suggests getting into “the mindset of a bowl and a plate” – simple, yes, but achievable and affordable.
This is also a favoured storage tactic of Anshu Ahuja and Renée Williams, co-founders of DabbaDrop in London, a vegan curry takeaway that delivers by bike in eco-packaging. “If it’s a lemon, for example, just put it [or an onion, red cabbage, tomato … you get the drift] sliced side down on a plate, and voilà! No bag or clingfilm needed.” If you’re storing something “wetter, crumbly, or a mixture” instead, use a deep bowl covered by a plate. “And if you need to wrap lettuce, just use a clean tea towel.”
A tea towel can, of course, also be used when proving dough, and a damp one for wrapping things like pastry. Bowl covers (those things that look like shower caps) are another way to avoid clingfilm – just make sure they’re made of linen, Hunter says, because “it’s less water-intensive and easier to grow than cotton, and it does seem to be better, as long as you like the crinkled look”.
Hunter is, however, “a big negative” when it comes to those reusable beeswax wraps. “Bees need to be left alone,” he insists. Soy wax versions are another option: “Plants and vegetables create better soil structure, more biodiversity, more oxygen in the planet. Bees aren’t going to be doing that.”
Likewise, silicone – be it bags or boxes for the fridge and freezer or baking sheets – is better than plastic, Hunter says, but is “a harder thing to get back to its natural state”. Bamboo and wood are also good choices, as is metal, for fridge and freezer, and for Ahuja and Williams’ beloved dabbas. “They’re made from food-grade stainless steel and can carry lunch or store leftovers in separate compartments.” You can pop them in the fridge or oven, and they’re good for picnics, too – “We don’t use anything else.” Jars, meanwhile, are of course good for storing everything from dressings to grains, and come with the bonus of looking good, too. But, says Jake Leach, head chef at The Harwood Arms, the only Michelin-starred pub in London, use only whatever you have to hand. “There’s always takeaway boxes, butter tubs, bottles … most things can be reused.”
Essentially, don’t buy it if you don’t need it. “We need to preserve, conserve and protect,” Hunter says.