So you've got half an orange, some chunks of cheese and a half sandwich left over from lunch. You're going to wrap them up in plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator, right?

Not so fast. There is a new way of storing food which is gradually making us rethink our use of plastic wrap. Beeswax wraps are having a moment, even replacing plastic wrap in some households.

These were new to me, too, until Marge Wartheson of Many Hands Organic Gardens at the farmers market brought them to my attention. She recently began making and selling them after a friend gave her some as a gift.

"At first I wasn't sure about how effective they would be, but I quickly became a convert," she said. "For those of us looking for environmental, biodegradable products these are a good step in that direction."

They are also becoming more popular as customers become educated about them. In fact, most Saturdays Wartheson sells more than 100 sets.

Her venture into making these was trial and error. "I failed several times until I got them the way I wanted," she said.

It's quite a process, from choosing the right cotton cloth — hers are in colorful batik patterns — to painting the beeswax mixture on, to drying them. Her standard sizes are 10-by-10 inches, 8-by-8 and 6-by-6. Packaged in sets of three, they sell for $15.

The attraction is that they are an all-natural product made with ingredients straight from Mother Nature: food-grade beeswax, rosin, coconut oil and jojoba oil. That mixture, heated gently, is then painted onto squares of cotton and dried briefly in a low oven.

Interestingly, the heat of your hands makes them malleable, sealing them onto whatever container or food you are going to keep. (Wartheson says they are especially good for saving cheese.)

From experience, I can tell you the seal is tight whether it's pressed onto food or a container. They also keep most foods fresher longer.

There are plenty of reasons, besides environmental ones, to give beeswax wraps a try. First, they are antifungal and can prevent the growth of yeasts and other fungi on food. They are also waterproof, but still breathable, retaining the food's natural moisture.

The wraps are also antibacterial, containing elements that keep things clean and reduce the risk of contamination. Unlike plastic wrap, which you throw away after one use, these can be used over and over if properly cared for. Just wash with a little dishwashing soap, rinse well in lukewarm water (never hot — the wax will melt), and then let dry. Of course over time they will show wear, but then just cut them into strips and compost (or throw away). While they can go into the freezer, never put them in the oven or microwave.

So, will beeswax wraps replace plastic wrap? Probably not. But for those of us who strive to be environmentally conscious, this is a good first step.

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