Beeswax is made from the honeycomb of the honeybee and other bees. It has several uses in food and beverages, and in manufacturing cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.
The same beeswax is introduced to replace plastic clingwraps to keep cooked food and leafy greens fresh, longer than when covered by plastic. Mothers in the communities helped Cara Marcelo produce this innovation.
An interior designer by profession, Cara Marcelo began The Good Cloth Co. with the goal of providing a sustainable way to wrap items for gifting and transport. What she got in the end was a business of greater purpose: the empowerment of a handful of Filipino mothers and a sustainable way of extending the shelf life of fresh produce.
“Five years ago, I started The Good Cloth company. We were focused on producing furoshiki wraps, but that didn’t really take off as much as I wanted to,” she said, referring to the traditional Japanese fabric used to wrap goods for transport and storage. “Then two years ago, I saw a video on how to make beeswax wraps. I became very interested in it. But of course, as an interior designer, I had a full career, and I was not able to pursue it until the pandemic started and I had more than enough time.”
It took a couple of months of experimenting with blends of locally sourced beeswax and virgin coconut oil before Marcelo found the ideal ratio for her beeswax wraps. After achieving the perfection she wanted, she then decided to offer these to friends who immediately took interest.
An eco-friendly way to preserve food
Beeswax wraps have been around for a while and offer a convenient and eco-friendly way of packing food for travel or storage. But for Marcelo, it’s the antibacterial properties of beeswax that make these cloth wraps even more useful, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when grocery runs have been few and far between.
“The most common feedback we’ve received is on how well the beeswax wraps preserve food. So many are interested on how to use it to wrap vegetables and keep these fresh longer,” she said. “After buying from the market, you end up wrapping leafy green vegetables in newspaper or plastic, but the moisture buildup accelerates spoilage. We’ve seen how the antibacterial properties of beeswax can help preserve not only vegetables but even cheese and bread.”
“I often post about how to wrap fruits and vegetables using beeswax wraps. I show in short videos how placing leafy greens in the bag can preserve them. I update my customers on how well the wrap was able to keep vegetables fresh while stored in the refrigerator. Eventually, they started sending me their own videos as feedback,” remarked Marcelo who also cover cheese in beeswax wrap before placing in the refrigerator to store it for a longer period.
In The Good Cloth Co.’s Instagram account, Marcelo shows how versatile the wraps are by capturing her experiments at home. She wraps the crown of a bunch of bananas using a small sheet of beeswax wrap to keep them from ripening too fast. Herbs, leafy greens, and even sliced fruit are also kept fresh for days by storing them in beeswax bags in the refrigerator.
Beeswax food bags come in various sizes and can hold bread, leafy greens, and other food items. But the simple sheet of beeswax wraps themselves already offer a variety of uses from food storage to preparation.
For stress bakers during the pandemic, Marcelo has a great tip: beeswax wraps can also replace clingwrap used for proofing dough. “We’ve seen a trend in baking during the pandemic, but this also means hundreds and hundreds of clingwrap ending up in landfills and in our ocean. Beeswax wraps can replace those single-use sheets of plastic. Use the warmth of your hands to help the wrap cling to the bowl and proof your dough; wash and dry your wrap once that’s done and it’s good to go for another round of baking.”
“Our food bags were developed to hold food like plastic zipper bags, and these are washable and reusable. Unlike their plastic counterparts, beeswax wraps and food bags can last for six months up to a year with proper care and can even be refreshed with a new coating of beeswax which we also sell to customers interested in extending the life of their wraps,” Marcelo explained.
Unlike their plastic counterparts, beeswax wraps and food bags can last for six months up to a year with proper care and can even be refreshed with a new coating of beeswax which is also sold by The Good Cloth Co. to customers interested in extending the life of their wraps.
Marcelo said once they’re done with it, they can put the wraps in their compost pile, and these will disintegrate there.
Added income and knowledge for volunteer mothers
It was after Marcelo introduced The Good Cloth Co. beeswax wraps to friends that the opportunity to expand its purpose came up. She remembers being approached by a friend connected with Love to Learn Center, a Quezon City-based foundation focused on providing feeding and teaching programs in the Kaingin 1 community.
“My friend approached me after buying my beeswax wraps and asked whether I wanted this to be a social enterprise. After that, we started collaborating online to train the nanays (mothers) who volunteer for the Love to Learn Center in Kaingin 1,” she recalled. “After about a month and a half of training, they slowly took over the process of making the beeswax wraps.”
Online training sessions began sometime in June last year and by August, at the height of the COVID19 pandemic, the volunteer mothers were confidently working on the beeswax wraps.
“Right now, we have four nanays and two partners from the center helping in the production. When we started training them, they thought that this was a volunteer project. But most of the income goes to them and we told them that we are going to grow this business together. It’s the first time these mothers have received income and they are able to take care of their families,” Marcelo shared.
Work in progress
As part of its campaign to ban single-use plastics, Oceana has been reaching out to eco-enterprises that are producing and promoting alternatives to plastic products and packaging. The Good Cloth Co. is one of the businesses in the Philippines paving the path towards sustainable living amid the difficulties posed by the pandemic.
Marcelo says there’s always something new to learn from her experience with The Good Cloth Co. Through trial and error, she developed better ways of shipping beeswax wraps to customers without using materials that are harmful to the environment.
As an interior designer, she saw furniture delivered to them, wrapped in so much bubble wrap. “My heart aches every time and I ask myself as a business owner: how do I stop this from happening? I think that there are other options to protect products without having to use plastic. Eventually we developed wrappers out of scrap fabric we had lying around. We realized that we didn’t need paper or plastic to safely send these packages to our customers. Cloth is so versatile,” she said.
But there is a long way to go in terms of promoting this way of thinking, according to Marcelo who recounted a drive to her family’s rest house by the beach during the pandemic and lamented seeing so much plastic waste.
Marcelo is not to be dissuaded. “Among the biggest challenges are to reach out to every sector and introduce these alternatives. What we need is a change in perspective. If you become more aware of the problem, then you can at least take the first step.”