Sunday, August 23, 2009


A couple of months ago, I wrote about the amount of waste that we produce in our kitchens and, particularly, about the terrible harm that disposable plastics are causing in our environment. Among other issues commented on at that time, I urged people to consider the waste caused by using plastic products to pack lunches for school and work.

I stressed the need to stop using disposable water bottles and other plastic items and start packing "greener” lunches. I recommended that wax paper be used as sandwich wrap because it is totally biodegradable. But, after some thought on the subject, I decided that wax paper wrap represents consuming extra paper, and that is another ecological problem. Besides, if you’re packing several sandwiches everyday, so much wax paper is expensive. I decided to look for an even greener alternative for sandwich wrap.

Well, I found a “green” sandwich wrapper, rather I found several variations on the same item on the Internet. I’m talking about reusable sandwich wraps, and the versions that I saw were made of oilcloth. They are a handy alternative to disposable plastic wraps and after use, can be wiped off or thrown in the washer. The ones I saw seemed to be well designed. But, as far as I know, all oilcloth is a plastic-laminate, and once more, we're faced with the use of a plastic. So, why create or use products that imply having more plastic around us -- at least, when it isn’t absolutely necessary?

Besides, when I looked at the oilcloth sandwich wraps available on commercial websites, I saw that the cost was about $8 each. That seemed to me to be a high price to pay for something that really had a simple design, and I decided to do my own take on this item. Here’s what I came up with.

This can be an easy, almost no-sew project. You’ll need a regular size square cloth table napkin, of about 12 inches on a side and about two yards of grosgrain ribbon, one-half inch wide. It can probably be made with napkins you already have on hand. If you don’t have any extra cloth napkins, the cheaper ones sell for about a dollar or you can sew them yourself. (Heavy non-nubby yarn could be substituted for ribbon, but it probably won’t hold up as well in the wash.)

Lay the napkin out flat, top-side down. On the back-side of the napkin, sew the two ribbons to the exact center of the square. One 30” piece of ribbon is sewn in one direction at its middle point and the other 30” piece is sewn on top of the first, but in the opposite direction at its middle point. The two ribbons form a cross. Make sure they are sewn on very well. To use your new sandwich wrap, put the sandwich on the top-side in the exact middle and diagonal to the sides of the napkin. Then, simply fold over the ends to form an “envelope” and tie the ribbons on the top.

I made these sandwich wraps for my husband’s lunches. He is happy to use them and, fortunately, always remembers to bring them back home. He has no preference about the design, so it was easy to use what I had on hand. But, if you pack sandwiches for children, it would be better to make your own napkins, or find them, with designs that the children like a lot - something like superheroes or favorite cartoon characters. That way, they are much more likely to return home after school with their reusable wraps.

I'm also experimenting with a variation on my napkin sandwich wrap. It involves sewing on two medium-sized buttons to the napkin. The first button goes on the backside in exactly the middle, and the second one is on what is be the top flap of the envelope. That way the ribbons can be separate from the napkin, but quickly tied
on by twisting the ribbons first around the back button and then pulling them on top and winding them around the top button. In that way, the ribbons won't have to be washed every time that the napkin is washed.

Another idea is to decorate these “plain” napkin wraps in some way. They could be made prettier by embroidery or by adding on a crocheted edge. This should be done before attaching the ribbons, so that the ribbons won’t get in the way. I’m planning to make some more sandwich wraps with decorative edges and give them as gifts to family members and friends this Christmas.

You have additional benefits when you carry a cloth sandwich wrap. It can easily be a makeshift place mat for your sandwich and its accompaniments on top of a table or desk. After its initial use, it can also be a napkin for your hands. That way your fingers will be less sticky when you get up from your lunch and you can skip using a paper napkin. Furthermore, in an emergency, your green sandwich wrap can serve as a small towel or handkerchief.

I made four wraps for my husband’s sandwiches. With four wraps, I’ll have time to wash a pair while he uses a pair. They hand wash and hang dry fast, so there’s no excuse for using a machine. Right now, I don’t have a washer, anyway. So, for me, ease in washing is at a premium. But, if you want, you can wash them in the washer. If you’ve sewn the ribbons on well, you shouldn’t have any problem. To be on the safe side, you can pin the tied up ribbons to the top before throwing it in the washer. They might need some extra care if you try to dry them in the clothes dryer.

By the way, I have an oilcloth tablecloth for everyday use. It is made with a plastic laminate which, as I've said, should be avoided when possible. But, on the other hand, regular cloth tablecloths have to be washed frequently, and that involves the use of a lot of detergent, water, and effort. It sometimes comes down to choices of “lesser evils”. In this complicated world we live in, we have to allow ourselves some trade-offs while we strive to be “greener”.

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