Hot Wax Everywhere, Broken Counters: Making Your Own Plastic Alternatives Gets Messy

Dedri Uys’s handmade paper straws.
Dedri Uys’s handmade paper straws. Photo: Dedri Uys

In her quest to find a reusable alternative to plastic food wrap, Dana Sluka of Melbourne, Australia, decided to make her own wax-covered cloth for covering dishes. An online tutorial explained how to melt beeswax in a double boiler and brush it onto a piece of cloth. Ideally, the wraps can be reused for a year or so.

It sounded simple enough. Then Ms. Sluka accidentally dribbled hot wax all over her laminate counter. “It was sticky and I couldn’t clean it off,” she said. An idea came to her: She reached for the kitchen torch that she uses to make creme brulee. Using the hottest flame setting, she began warming up the globs of wax on the counter. The heat caused the counter to crack.

A proliferation of online videos and blogs shows that it’s possible to make your own alternatives to single-use products—from food wrap to shopping bags and the disappearing plastic drinking straw.

Possible—but not easy. As eco-minded individuals look to reduce their plastic waste, they’re finding the do-it-yourself approach can ruin appliances and risk injuries. It can also require a sizable chunk of time and money.

Dana Sluka cracked her counter making her own wax-covered-cloth food wraps.
Dana Sluka cracked her counter making her own wax-covered-cloth food wraps. Photo: Hong Anderson

Undeterred, Ms. Sluka, an accountant turned stay-at-home mom, spent months improving her recipe. She’s experimented with adding coconut oil and resin to the wax to improve the wrap’s texture and durability. Now she sells her homemade products online. “I’ve moved into my husband’s office,” she said. “All I’m ruining is the carpet.”

Linda Kirkpatrick, an IT specialist from Jacksonville, Fla., had trouble getting her wax-covered-cloth wrap to cling to the sides of containers. She tried adding other ingredients, including sandlike pine resin granules.

Converting those granules into a liquid was a challenge. “I probably wasted around $100 trying to get the pine resin to melt into the beeswax,” said Mrs. Kirkpatrick. Eventually, she and her husband figured out a solution by treating the resin with isopropyl alcohol before adding it to the hot beeswax, she said.

The whole operation usually spans hours over several evenings. She lines her kitchen surfaces and floor with paper and sets up a portable hot plate. She melts the wax in her slow cooker.

“I haven’t been able to have a stew in months now,” she said.

Linda Kirkpatrick now sells her food wraps at local markets.
Linda Kirkpatrick now sells her food wraps at local markets. Photo: Linda Kirkpatrick

In London, Dedri Uys has shared her hard-won knowledge on how to make paper straws on her blog.

She starts by rolling strips of paper into tubes. To get the paper to stick together, she uses either homemade cornstarch paste or gelatin glue. She has tried sealing the paper with wax from soybean oil, but those straws were “barely usable,” she said. “If you squished them, bits of soy wax would fall off from the inside.”

Paraffin wax was better, though on her first try the wax didn’t melt completely and coagulated within the straws. Other straws ended up too fat.

On her blog, she counsels readers to not get discouraged: “If you mess up one or two (or five) straws, take heart. After making about 60 of them I still occasionally got the angle wrong or applied too much glue.”

Lindsay Weirich’s method for making paper straws—which she outlines in a YouTube video, with more than 96,000 views—involves partially submerging a Mason jar of paraffin wax in a pot of boiling water until the wax is melted, for coating the paper tubes.

The painter and handicrafts enthusiast in Orrington, Maine, has answered viewer questions about whether the wax is safe for potential consumption—she recommends using canning wax, a food-grade paraffin that is used to make candy.

She warns fellow crafters to be careful when heating the flammable wax that “you don’t ignite it.”

Gabriela Lerner found her inspiration for a natural alternative to straws while gardening in Dorset, England. She was pruning a patch of bamboo with her husband when she realized she could make straws from the more slender shoots after using sandpaper to smooth the rims.

“There were a few that were too thin and you couldn’t suck up them, and some ended up being too short,” she said. After a few months, the reusable straws are holding up well, she said. Ms. Lerner carries her straw with her, along with a small brush to keep it clean.

Near Philadelphia, Rebekah Bussom figured she could reduce her plastic bag usage by coating a canvas tote bag in wax, making it water resistant for grocery shopping.

She melted some wax in an old tin can in a pan of water on a stove, and used a paint brush to coat the bag with wax. Then she needed a way to make the wax set evenly and keep it from flaking off.

She tried using her hair dryer, but had to keep it on for so long it got too hot. Ms. Bussom decided to put the waxed bag in a pillowcase and tossed it into her dryer to let it tumble around the drum. The pillowcase ended up with blobs of wax on it.

Ms. Bussom said she now presses and dries her wax bags by ironing them between a sheet of aluminum foil and the lid of a pizza box.

She hasn’t completely given up plastic bags. “I always forget my reusable bag when I go to the market,” she said.

Write to Lucy Craymer at Lucy.Craymer@wsj.com

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