Update: The first 5 buyers of an insulated lunch bag from Life Without Plastic will receive 10% off. Enter the code FPFBAG into the coupon code field during checkout.
Yesterday, I hinted at how I carried home my ice cream from Tara’s in an insulated nearly plastic-free bag. Now, perhaps you have already figured out a plastic-free way to carry hot or cold foods without losing/letting in heat. But more often than not, the choice is a nylon or neoprene bag insulated with plastic foam, right? Some are constructed out of recycled plastic, which is great. But it’s nice to know that there is an (almost) plastic-free alternative. That alternative? Wool.
Personally, I was excited when Jay from the company Life Without Plastic sent me information about his new locally-produced insulated wool lunch bag. (Locally-produced means made in Canada, where Life Without Plastic is based, rather than [for those of us in North America] overseas.)
In the interest of full disclosure, please note that Life Without Plastic is a Fake Plastic Fish sponsor. But there’s a reason for that. It is a rockin’ company whose mission is to help stem the tide of plastic pollution. I met Jay in person at the San Francisco Green Festival last year, and we had fun watching out for plastic-free products and trying on the Bag Monster costume.
But back to the bag. The only plastic is the 2% Spandex in the otherwise cotton denim fabric (which Jay says they will try and change to 100% cotton in the next run.) The removable snap-on lining is made from unbleached cotton muslin, and the insulation is pure wool. What’s more, committed to eliminating all plastic waste as much as possible, Jay shipped me this bag to try out using zero plastic packaging. No plastic tape. Not even a plastic sticker or address pocket on the box.
So the question is, does the bag actually work? How does it compare to plastic foam insulated lunch bags? I did a couple of experiments. First, I found three mason jars that were exactly the same size and shape and filled them with water. Next, I refrigerated them until the water in each was exactly 40° F.
I put one Mason jar into the wool lunch bag, one into a plastic foam lunch bag, and the final jar I left out as a control. It was all extremely scientific, I must say.
After an hour, I checked the temperatures. The jar left out in the room had reached 49°. The one in the plastic bag, 47°. And the wool bag, 44°.
After three hours: Room 59°, Plastic 54°, and Wool 52°.
After five hours: Room 62°, Plastic 55°, and Wool 55°.
The verdict? Neither of these bags alone (without adding ice or some other temperature lowering substance) kept the water as cold as we might have expected. But the fact is that the wool kept the jar colder for longer than the plastic bag. So we can conclude that it works as least as well.
But what about heat? After letting the jars all reach the same room temperature, I heated them in the microwave to 113° F.
Here are the results of that test.
One hour later: Room 90°, Plastic 96°, and Wool 97°.
Three hours later: Room 75°, Plastic 82°, and Wool 83°.
Once again, the wool bag performed at least as well as the plastic one. (I didn’t do a third test because honesty I forgot about the bags and jars after that!)
Conclusion: the wool and the plastic performed equally as well.
I’m thinking that with a source of cold in the bag, it would perform even better. And I have some ideas for what that source could be. We don’t want to use ice because it will melt if it’s not in a plastic bag. (Of course, if you have an old plastic bag lying around, you could just repurpose that as an ice pack.) And we don’t want to use a vinyl gel pack, right? How about filling a small jar with water and freezing it? Tempered glass jars, I have found from experience, do fine in the freezer as long as you don’t heat them quickly after taking them out. You must also leave some room in the top for expansion. Do not fill it all the way up!
You could put the jar inside a thick sock for added protection. But if you think a sock would not be enough to keep a glass jar from breaking in the hands of a rough child, how about repurposing a used plastic bottle? There certainly are quite a few around. Of course, I’d never suggest buying a new one!
As for heat, what about using a heated rice sock like those I posted about two weeks ago? (I didn’t suggest the cold rice sock above because from my experience, I don’t think they get cold enough to really do the job.)
I haven’t tried out either of these methods because I just thought of them right now as I’m writing this post. What do you think? Do you have other ideas/suggestions for keeping foods hot or cold on the go? Or is this not an issue for you?