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BeeBee Wraps joins fightback against plastic

BeeBee Wraps protect food in the same way as cling film - without the single-use plastic implications
BeeBee Wraps protect food in the same way as cling film - without the single-use plastic implications

Cambridge firm's sustainable answer to cling-film

Kath Austin, founder of Beebee Wraps, with some of her products . Picture: Keith Heppell
Kath Austin, founder of Beebee Wraps, with some of her products . Picture: Keith Heppell

Growing awareness that microplastics are in the food chain have startled consumers into thinking more about what materials they are using - and being obliged to use.

We are creating millions of tonnes of plastic every year, destined to clog up landfill and oceans for hundreds of years to come.

Fact is, we don’t know how to get rid of it. It’s non-biodegradable. Making 7.7 billion plastic bottles a year just for UK consumers is an ugly statistic, made worse by the fact that less than a third is recovered or recycled, according to Parliament’s environmental audit committee.

And, as we have reported, microplastics – finally being banned by the UK government – have been routinely used in products from toothpaste to cosmetics. When they are rinsed away and land up in the ocean, they are consumed by fish, which we in turn eat.

We now know our plastic overspill will live on for 500 years – a footprint future generations will not thank us for. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start coming up with solutions and, for most of us, that means cutting down on the amount of plastic bags we buy, and recycling old wrapping.

Kath Austin, the Cambridge founder of BeeBee Wraps, has taken her desire for a better world further.

Much of the plastic we use is single-use, as Kath became very aware when her first child was born.

“Four years ago I’d had my first child,” she said, “and I was looking at how much plastic was coming in with another human being in the house.”

Someone suggested wax paper to protect food rather than cling-film, so Kath tried it.

“Pretty soon I realised that cloth is better because beeswax cracks so I tried mixing it with coconut oil, then olive oil, then jojoba, which is a plant grown in South America that’s widely used in aromatherapy, and it’s really good for food.”

Biodegradable ingredients seemed like a good way to go. But the mixes lacked a sealant to lock in the bowl or saucepan’s contents.

“I spent 18 months trying stuff, and then added in tree resin, which is what gymnasts use on their hands to be so grippy. That’s what makes it a reasonable seal: adding tree resin makes it even better.”

BeeBee Wraps was born. “I came up with a formula which is a family secret and started selling it in April last year and it just hasn’t stopped.”

BeeBee Wraps are reusable wraps made from organic cotton treated with beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil, “all of which will biodegrade on your compost heap and return to nature without a trace”.

The wraps last up to a year and a three-pack of mixed sizes is around £14. They’re reusable. “They’re replenished in the oven – pop it on greaseproof paper for a minute or two then whip them out. That brings the wax back together and pasteurises it.”

Still operating from her city centre home, BeeBeeWraps has taken on staff. “I can’t believe it’s happened, I’m over the moon, this is brilliant.”

There’s various ways to go – crowdfunding to help get commercial premises, or outsourcing production. But just keeping up with demand on a week-to-week basis is the main thing right now, and there can be problems – a lack of beeswax, for instance.

“We get European beeswax from one source,” Kath says. “The real gold standard is local beeswax. It has a distinctive smell and a refined quality, so we’re establishing relationships with lots of bee keepers in and around Cambridge – we’re always looking for new people. We buy a lot – last night I went to collect 20 kilos, we go through masses of it.”

Just to stay with the circular economy theme, scrap fabric from the production process is turned into BeeBee Burners, “amazingly effective firelighters that burn slowly like a candle and stay lit even in wet grass”. They will be available on the website soon.

Who knew eco-answers are so close to home?

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