Abeego wraps covering bowls and glasses. Photo: Abeego

Summer is sadly drawing to a close and visions of leftover potato salad and backyard BBQs are fading away into the distant past – much like the toothsome memories of taut plastic wrap protecting my leftovers and potentially poisoning me with its unique mix of toxins and endocrine disrupters.

Like Xerox, Teflon and Jello, brands like Saran harken back to the 1950s and ‘60s when “better living through chemistry” was the mantra of scientists at places like Dow and Dupont. But plastic wrap’s cachet has been greatly tarnished by heightened consumer awareness about its widely recognized toxicity and ability to leach chemicals and endocrine disrupters into the food it was meant to protect. And Victoria, BC, innovator Toni Desrosiersis may be well on her way to replacing this quintessential kitchen and food service staple with a thoughtful and ecologically sound alternative.

Originally, Saran Wrap was made from thin-film polymers using polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), which was known to contain phthalates, chemicals used to increase flexibility that can also disrupt hormones when leached into food. As of 2006, almost all plastic wrap made in North America is now phthalate-free. The new material of choice is low-density polyethylene (LDPE), but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. LDPE may contain diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), yet another potential endocrine disruptor that has been linked to breast cancer and low sperm counts.

Saran Wrap’s progenitor was accidentally discovered in 1933 at the Dow Chemical Company when a lab worker was having trouble washing beakers while developing a dry-cleaning product. Dow researchers developed the stubborn material into a liquid spray initially used on US fighter planes and then automobile upholstery. Dow Chemical later named the product Saran and eliminated its creepy Martian-green hue and foul odor, and the Saran Wrap we know moved into our kitchens starting in 1949.

We have all been warned that plastic wrap may leach chemicals into our food when it is used to cover dishes being heated in microwave ovens. Health Canada and the US Food Safety and Inspection Service advise against using plastic wrap that isn’t specifically microwave-safe.

Emerging from this paradoxical need to preserve our leftovers but not pickle our innards – and landfills – with toxins comes an ecologically sound alternative to plastic wrap, a product called Abeego. Created in BC in 2008, Abeego wraps are hemp and cotton sheets treated with tree resin, jojoba oil and beeswax that fit neatly and tightly over dishes or around food and are reusable after washing with cold, soapy water. A single sheet may last more than a year and the risk of leached endocrine disrupters and a whole lot of other bad mojo is noticeably absent. At the end of its life, an Abeego wrap is compostable and the production process is nearly 100 per cent waste-free.

Ancient cultures including the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks valued beeswax and the Egyptians used beeswax-impregnated cloth for embalming the dead and protecting valuable scrolls centuries ago. Beeswax-impregnated cloth is a trusted method for protecting stuff that can rot that predates plastic wrap by many years and Abeego is reinvigorating this tradition for a new generation.

Abeego has now been on the market in the US and Canada for some time, and the product currently appears in over 200 stores. Abeego’s creator, Toni Desrosiers, has been working hard to replace plastic wrap with a sustainable and reusable product, but needed her community's help her take her business to the next level. Toni Desrosiers recently competed against nine other businesses across Canada for the 2014 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award and won the second place prize of $25,000 to help grow her business.

The award is a significant achievement and will give Abeego access to business consulting that can help the company grow, while maintaining its mission and focus. BDC awards help innovative business to “take it to the next level.” Smart, managed growth is challenging and finding the right size for any business can be a make or break scenario if not thoughtfully considered.

I am excited to see where this new funding will take Toni and Abeego, and how smart growth may transform this sustainable Canadian business after such a strong start and I am sure there are many others out there who would love to see Abeego take over a larger chunk of the market currently occupied by plastic wrap.

Eric Nay is an architect, designer, artist and a professor at OCAD University. His blog, Made in Canada, profiles examples of Canadian design innovation, including sustainable buildings and design, craft practices and innovative businesses across the country.

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