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Unnecessary uses of plastic wrap

So many recipes call for using plastic wrap as a temporary cover for bowls, and it's often so unnecessary! Does this bother anyone else? Why specify covering with plastic wrap? Why not a pan lid, a casserole cover, a cookie sheet, a kitchen towel, etc.? Why a piece of plastic wrap to be used for a few hours then thrown away?

I admit, this has become a pet peeve of mine. In the grand scheme of things, what's a few pieces of plastic wrap? A few pennies of cost, a few square centimeters of landfill, a tiny amount of resources used in the manufacturing. But it adds up, and the usage is often so totally unnecessary. Wrapping a cut onion in plastic wrap, sure, I'll do that. But covering a bowl? I've got plenty of alternatives.

It's always bothered me that so many microwave recipes use plastic wrap too. Despite manufacturers claims, I don't trust the wrap not to leach plasticizers into the food. Again, why not use a glass casserole cover? Or a reusable vented microwave cover (even if it is plastic)? It's not like they're that much work to wash.

This rant brought to you courtesy of a strawberry recipe that specified "Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring every so often." Honestly, it's far easier to lift up a lid of some sort and stir than it is to pull plastic wrap back then replace repeatedly, not mention being less wasteful.

(I'm posting this in Home Cooking because it's about recipes and cooking, but if the Chowhound team thinks it should be in General Chowhound Topics, I'd understand.)

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  1. I hear you Karen :)

    DH loves plastic wrap (and ziploc bags...landfill fodder), where I'd rather use a ziploc container(recyclable) for storage or glass/ceramic in the mic. Although to his credit he has started using the vented plate covers when he reheats food :)

    1. To say nothing of the fact that plastic wrap has no place over an open flame (pot on stove top)! Hello melting plastic, leaching chemicals and ruined, toxic food!

      1. In general, I agree with you but sometimes you need the plastic directly on the food to prevent a film from forming, eg. puddings, custards, cruds.

        As a microwave cover, I just picked up a netting made for the microwave with little weights on the bottom. It works perfectly. And, for onions, I picked up a tupperware container for half onions/tomatoes that hangs so it's out of the way and easy to see.


        6 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          > sometimes you need the plastic directly on the food to prevent a film from forming, eg. puddings, custards, curds

          What, prevent the skin from forming? The best part?!

          Heh, I know, personal preference. But I remember reading the pudding package as a kid where they say to lay plastic wrap on the pudding for 'a creamier pudding' and I couldn't figure out for the longest time how that was supposed to make any difference, then being outraged when I finally understood what they meant.

          Clever containers. I do pop cut onions into containers sometimes, but unless I use them in the next day or two, they do start to dry out.

          1. re: Karen_Schaffer

            jfood's with you KS, he loves the concentrated chocolate film. Trick was to get ot off the pudding in one piece and into your mouth without it falling in your lap.

          2. re: chowser

            I use waxed paper for covering surfaces when I want to prevent oxidation.

              1. re: lagatta

                "Cruds" is my nickname for all the particles that stick to the sides of my microwave, after those little explosions that remind you that something in there is overcooked. I scrape them off and mix them with cream cheese and serve them with Melba toast to guests I don't like....:)

                1. re: Veggo

                  I just snorted ginger ale out of my nose on that one Veggo.. LOL! Thanks for the laugh!

            1. I've been using re-usable silicone lids for the past year or so. They come in different sizes, and can be used in the microwave, on the stovetop, and in the oven. They are easy to clean, and store in very little space. I still use plastic wrap at time, but a lot less than before.

              I've also switched to white cloth napkins, dish towels and hand towels. I use the towels to drain/dry produce, as well as hands and dishes. They also serve to mop up spills. I bought lots of these dirt-cheap at Sam's, and pop them into a hamper next to the washing machine when they're dirty. Every couple of weeks, I run them through the washer in hot soapy water with bleach to sterilize. I've really cut down on the amount of paper products that I buy.

              3 Replies
              1. re: pikawicca

                the jfoods have gone from 8-10 rolls of paper towels a week to 1-2. towels are used versus paper towels is the boggest difference. He also purchased a lot of mason jars and glad-ware for fridge stuff. It took six months to explains to the little jfood that these were not disposables.

                Still a little guilty on zip loc bags but working on it.

                1. re: jfood

                  I use mason jars for just about everything I need to store Jfood. You know they work awesome for onions too.. No smelly onions in my fridge, plus they are great for leftover liquids, and shaking up a mixed drink :) (I stopped using my bartending shaker when I noted this little gem can even hold the mixer in the freezer for a while to get icy cold margaritas.

                  1. re: gryphonskeeper

                    There are short, wide Mason jars. Also Pyrex makes glass food containers with a flexible plastic lid that can go into conventional or microwave ovens - not the lid, obviously. Only problem is how to replace the lid when it starts to crack (after several years).

                    You can buy white plastic lids for Mason jars for refrigerator use. I also have the European kind - French and Italian - with a little rubber ring.

              2. I haven't bought plastic wrap in at least five years. I use lids for everything I can, and tinfoil for the rest.

                1 Reply
                1. re: northside food

                  same here northside. i don't buy plastic wrap and don't like it. Anyway I am one of those idiots who cannot seem to pull it out from the roll without getting all twisted up or cutting my fingers on the edge of the cutter.

                2. Years ago there was a celebrated advice to the lovelorn column that suggested that a wife could rekindle a faltering romantic spark by greeting hubby after a hard day's work ...wearing nothing but plastic wrap.
                  I guess the idea never caught on.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Veggo

                    If you simply want to avoid splatters in the microwave you can top the food with a paper towel. If you use Bounty it can be rinsed, dried and reused.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Fried Green Tomatoes!!! Great movie. Cosmo had an article using plastic wrap a few years ago that became a huge joke among my college group.

                      On the food-usage side, I completely agree. I've never even liked using it, and just avoided it and found other ways to get the same effect. Just the smell of plastic wrap, beyond the annoying factor of static cling where it only seems to attach to itself, drove me away.

                      1. re: TampaAurora

                        I believe the "saran wrap" at the door suggestion was actually from Maribel Morgan's 1970s classic "The Total Woman."

                        I use plastic wrap a few times a year. I do, however, use plastic baggies fairly frequently, so I guess I can't pat myself on the back. I can pat myself on the back about paper towels -- I hardly ever use them, and then only when I'm cleaning up something so yucky it needs to go in the trash and not be rinsed down the drain. What's so hard about using sponges and dish towels?

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Former baggie junkie here who has now reformed: I turn my plastic baggies inside out and throw them into my washing machine when I'm doing a cold load. Hang 'em up to dry with the other non-dryer items. Reuse, repeat. Works like a charm! We have been using the same box of plastic bags for a couple of years now.

                      2. re: Veggo

                        Paper towels work better for faster removal, and are enviornmentally friendlier.

                      3. I guess I must be a plastic food wrap junkie. I get the commercial 3000 foot -by- 18 inch wide film wrap, and put it into my Kenkut II dispenser. However, I seldom use it for covering food but rather for portioning up food items for fridge/frozen storage.

                        I have so few bowls but recently got some Rubbermaid Commercial polycarbonate square storage containers (with lids) and will prep from them. Now these I can microwave from but I refuse to nuke in any other type of plastic that cannot take above 160 degrees.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: RShea78

                          I love it too. One of the best inventions on the planet.

                          It does for bread dough what a towel cannot.

                          1. re: dolores

                            dolores- My sister did the towel number and ended up with a terry cloth and dough nightmare.

                            Another one of my favorite uses for plastic film wrap, is for pressing hamburger or sausage into patties. Believe it or not, I can press out a 6 inch round -by- one fourth inch thick patty (resembles a Whopper patty) and it stays together very well. Regular pattying by hand, no matter how hard I try, many end up falling apart in the cooking process. (Thick, thin or whatever)

                            1. re: RShea78

                              Works better if you use a linen towel (aka tea towel) or a woven cotton towel.

                              1. re: RShea78

                                For stuff like that I use a clear plastic tarp cut into pieces. It's a thick plastic that you can easily wash (without using extravagant amounts of water) and reuse.

                          2. I'm with you, but for one instance: when making meringue cookies, it's a lot easier to pipe from a plastic bag than to waste a lot of water cleaning the cloth piping bag afterward.

                            Sometimes I think people waste too much water washing something, and it's worse for the environment (the cure is worse than the ailment?).

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Claudette

                              Yes, it can be hard sometimes to know which is the better choice, environmentally speaking. As I said above, I use waxed paper to prevent oxidation. I don't know if that's better than using plastic, whether you're looking at resource-consumption, carbon footprint, or whatever. Plastic isn't biodegradable, but most waxed paper isn't much better. I use waxed paper because I have it in the house, whereas I usually don't have plastic wrap. You do the best you can and hope that you make the right decision more often than not.

                            2. It does not bother me, and I dont think twice about using some plastic wrap to cover a bowl of marinating beef, or some other protein. Or to cover that bowl of freshly made guacamole.

                              The alleged environmental inpact does not even enter my thought process.

                              I never cook with plastic wrap, or use a microwave so that part does not come into play in my kitchen.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: swsidejim

                                I marinate animal proteins in rectangular Pyrex containers with their own plastic cover (the plastic rarely touches the food).

                                I don't understand what you say about the environmental impact. Do you mean you don't care?

                              2. Often I just use a stoneware plate as a cover for things that are sitting on the counter. I know it traps moisture because often enough a whole layer of moisture ends up on the underside of the plate.

                                I keep saran around for freezing things and for wrapping half an onion. I usually don't cover things with it. Instead I use a container with a lid for the fridge. Oh, sometimes I do use saran to cover something for pounding (like a breast). I've never thought to try an alternative to that.

                                1. A roll of plastic wrap lasts me ages because, as you say, there are better alternatives. I throw any old lid over a bowl of marinating food, or use containers with their own lids for longer-term storage. It's just common sense to me to cut down on using things that you have to keep replacing.

                                  1. We've consciously tried to lower our use of aluminium foil, cling wrap and ziploc bags this year, and it actually was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Big helps:

                                    - reusable plastic food covers for the microwave
                                    - those retro pyrex glass dishes with matching glass lids. Wash so easily, can see contents easily
                                    - not lining baking trays with foil when roasting. Liquid usually leaks down the sides, so I'm going to need to wash it, anyway. I find potatoes stick less without the foil.
                                    - invested in Tupperware (the real deal which lasts twenty years) for all our freezing needs. Makes the freezer much neater and accessible than hundreds of frozen ziploc bags.
                                    - use plain parchment paper instead of clingfilm for preventing custard skins, lining baking sheets where necessary, wrapping cheeses,etc
                                    - using small saucers as lids on bowls of leftovers kept in the fridge for next-day reheating, rather than clingfilm
                                    - when transporting food (picking up takeaways, taking food to potlucks) I put the containers in a big plastic bus tub in the trunk of my car. If stuff spills a little, it's easy to clean

                                    Next on the list: reducing paper towel usage.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Gooseberry

                                      Re: Reducing paper towel usage. If you can get them, the Scott towels that are perforated into half sheets are great for this. We have almost doubled the life of a roll of paper towels at our house, because you take just what you need. (Their toilet paper is cheaper and better too.)

                                    2. I just use lids to cover containers. I use corelle plates, and the bowls have lids that snap on, which is perfect for microwaving, and keeping things warm on the table. I find that I pretty much only use plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn for meats. First, I wrap in plastic, then in foil. Works great.

                                      1. I guess it is time to admit my dirty little secret ......... all those hotel shower cap freebies have been covering bowls of food in my refrigerator for years and years.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Sherri

                                          omg!! I thought I was the only one.. ::::giggle:::

                                        2. Well, honestly thanks for bringing this up. I try to be conscious about waste but I must admit I think I sometimes use plastic wrap to cover something when I could just as easily use something that isn't disposable. Like you said it all adds up, I'll definitely avoid where possible from now on...

                                          1. Another alternative is simply using a plastic bag around the whole bowl (and re-using it afterwards).