The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 16, 2007

Sending things back…

You’ve heard of paying it forward? This post is about sending it back. And no, I’m not talking about that mean thing that sport fishermen do. I’m referring to unwanted plastic that shows up my my doorstep unsolicited. I’ve decided that in addition to e-mailing or sending a letter to the company, I’m just going to ship it right back to them! So here are a few things I’ve sent back this week:

As many of you know, I’ve been having no luck finding plastic-free cheddar cheese here in the Bay Area. (And no, I haven’t found a deli that will wrap it in plain paper that is not lined with plastic.) Yet cheese is one of the few things I’m not willing to give up. So I decided that I would put my eco-energy into purchasing good quality local organic cheese from happy cows that graze on pasture, rather than hormones, antibiotics, and corn (organic or not); and allow it to be one of my few plastic indulgences. That said, I didn’t want extra plastic. Just the unavoidable cheese wrappers.

So when I ordered several blocks of organic cheddar from Loleta Cheese Factory, I included a note asking not to have any plastic or styrofoam packaging if possible and for them to call me before shipping if there was any problem with that instruction. Well, the cheese arrived, packaged with a bunch of styrofoam peanuts. I could have cried.

Instead, I took out the cheese, put a nice letter inside the box explaining why I was sending them a bunch of styrofoam peanuts, sealed it up, and mailed it back to the company. And two days later I received a very apologetic e-mail from Loleta employee, Cindy Davy. Turns out I’d accidentally used the word, “extra,” in my instructions. As in, “no extra styrofoam.” So they interpreted that to mean I wanted some styrofoam. I’ve got to be soooooo careful with my words!

Anyway, Cindy graciously offered me a credit in the amount that I paid to ship the box back and promised it wouldn’t happen again. The cheese is great, so I may reorder. We’ll see. There is another cheesery, Spring Hill Cheese Company, that is geographically closer to me and also raises happy cows. In fact, they sell at my farmer’s market. But I didn’t care for the taste of their cheese the last time I tried it. Maybe I should give them another chance too.

That worked so well, I decided to send a few more things back. I received this DVD along with a bunch of coupons from Straus Family Creamery after sending them a love letter about their ice cream. Straus, located in Marin County, also raises happy cows (we’ve got a theme going here) and in addition to selling the milk, they make the best ice cream in the world. (Okay, Michael, besides Toscanini’s in Cambridge.) And they use the least plastic possible on their cardboard cartons: just the coating on the inside. You guys know that all cardboard ice cream and milk cartons and pretty much any paper products that hold food are coated with plastic, right?

Well, I gladly accepted and used those coupons! But I don’t need the DVD, which is just extra plastic. Especially since the videos, showing how Straus’s farm and dairy operate, are also on their web site. So tonight I’m sending that back with a very nice note thanking them nicely but letting them know I don’t need the extra plastic.

And here’s another send back for tonight. A promotional mailing from General Mills. It’s a plastic ring that says, “Eat Better.” You’re supposed to wear it around your finger to remind yourself to… um… eat better. (Than what?) And it’s packaged in a plastic sleeve. I don’t feel like composing a letter for this one. The label is marked “Return Service Requested.” So I wrote, “Return to Sender” and in the tiny available space, “Please do not send me unsolicited plastic. Plastic waste is harmful to the environment.” And I’m not even getting into the irony of General Mills, makers of Hamburger Helper, Cocoa Puffs (sorry Marika!), and Totino’s pizza rolls, advising me to eat better.

And finally, I’m sending myself back. Back to the old homestead in Maryland for a few days where my dad advises me to “metamorphize vis-a-vis plastic use in this here household. Just give it up, babe! Don’t think about it. Then, we all will be HAPPY!” Are you reading this Dad? I’ll be there in a day and a half, reusable bottle and camera in hand. Are your kitchen cabinets and refrigerator ready for my exposé?

As Bill Maher might say, “I kid my dad from love!”

And I do plan to blog for at least a couple of days while I’m there to capture the parental perspective. Don’t worry. It’ll be fun.

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I only post ads for products I use myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

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14 years ago

I utterly appreciate what you do.
My eyes well up in saying so.

Mr. P.
San Francisco

Cindy Davy
15 years ago

Hi Beth,

I am so glad that I found this web page. I wanted to let you know that since our communications regarding the peanuts that we use for shipping, we have now changed to peanuts made of cornstarch. :) I was so happy and I wanted to let you know. Everyone is so excited here about the change and that one can actually eat the packaging peanuts. haha Thank you so much for your advice and persistance regarding this matter. You are a wonderful example for everyone to follow.


Cindy Davy
Loleta Cheese Factory

15 years ago

whoops i meant throw, not through

15 years ago

I just discovered your blog and commend you for what you’re doing – people taking a stand like you are is truly necessary to make change.

My only concern is with your method of shipping things back to where they came from. I understand you’re doing it as a matter of principle and to make companies think about what they are doing – and that’s great! But, I constantly weigh the environmental impacts of every action – and when you look at the whole life cycle of a product, the environmental impacts of shipping things around are often the most impactful. I don’t want to say your method is wrong, because if you can get any company to consider more environmentally preferable packaging methods, etc. then the impact of your efforts is certainly worth it in the grand scheme of things. I just wanted to through this idea out there as something to think about.

Also, I wonder if you are sending EVERYTHING back or only when you know they don’t think about it. I ask this question because I know certain companies (i.e. greenfeet) try to package their items in the most environmentally friendly way possible. This means they reuse all the packaging they receive (no matter what kind it is) – and try to repurpose items (i.e. styrofoam peanuts) instead of trashing them and putting more resources into buying the eco-friendly type (i.e. the cornstarch kind). With all that said, I get that your greater purpose is to push for phasing out these plastic containing items completely – and that I definitely support!

One question. I haven’t read all the old posts yet so I’m not sure if you’ve addressed this, but i’m curious – what do you use for tape (especially for packaging items).

16 years ago

Toscanini’s, holla!

Beth Terry
16 years ago

Hi Kristen. Thanks for writing. Wow. I’m embarrassed. So sorry for spelling Straus’s name wrong. I’ve now fixed it in the post. I guess I should check and see if there are any other places on my site I’ve misspelled it.

And Carol, could you please e-mail me privately? My e-mail address is in my profile. And let me know in what areas you find you use the most plastic.

16 years ago

Plastic free life sounds wonderful. Can you tell me a list of non-plastic alternatives that you have found to get me started? My e-mail address is:

THanks so very much for all your work! Carol of NC

16 years ago


It’s Kristen from Straus Family Creamery. I must say … I have never heard of these Strauss people. I do know of an awesome creamery in Marshall that makes organic, hormone-free dairy products. They are called Straus Family Creamery. Don’t sweat it, everyone misspells it at least once.

Thanks for the note back. I got it today. I will use the DVD for someone else. Thank you for your commitment to a plastic-free life.

I did want to address the issue you mentioned in your letter about our plastic caps on our reusable glass bottles. Previously we used a foil lid. Foil is only one-time use. It is very hard to re-attach the lid securely enough to shake up all the cream. While plastic stinks, at least you can use it more than one time at home. Plus … plastic creates the best food safety barrier.

Thanks for inviting me to your site!

16 years ago

great post beth and I’m so glad to hear that there are live people who respond, positively to individual efforts – and thanks for the heads up on a new cheese company to try.

Beth Terry
16 years ago

Hi Clif. Nope. It’s not wax. It hasn’t been wax for many, many years. All of them are coated with a layer of plastic. I have to leave, but if you are interested, I can find the sources for you.

terrible person
16 years ago

Hey, can you use styrofoam peanuts to make styrofoam peanut butter? Chunky or creamy?

Just wondered.

16 years ago

You said “You guys know that all cardboard ice cream and milk cartons and pretty much any paper products that hold food are coated with plastic, right?”

Is it plastic? I thought it was wax – or rather paraffin (from petroleum) but that isn’t plastic, is it? If you heat it up a bit it will run right off the cartons. I remember as a kid in school waaay back in the 1950’s we used to use our fingernails to scrape the stuff off of our little milk cartons at lunch time. Yes, we were bored.

terrible person
16 years ago

I don’t think your request vis a vis packaging was ambiguous. Basically, ALL plastic packaging is “extra”, in the sense of “superfluous, unnecessary”.


Have a great trip. Did you know that Boeing’s new plane, the 787 “Dreamliner”, which all the airlines are ordering but whose delivery has been embarassingly delayed due to parts supply problems, will be made out of plastic? Well, “advanced composites”. Are materials like carbon fiber and fiberglass petroleum based, o material girl? I guess I could research this myself, but you’re so good at it!

16 years ago

OH i LOVE LOVE LOVE this post about all the happy cows that you support. and can i just say how much they LOVE you for supporting them and not supporting cows that are injected with hormones and kept in unsanitary (and cruel!) conditions.

oh and i love my cocoa puffs. although i havent been eating them lately. im on the same diet as joanne…only im not as good at it as she is. :(

PS..i just got year of the dog. im going to watch it tonight.

16 years ago

When I was a coffee roaster, I shared a big space with the shipping department. The grounds keeper/box assembler hated styrofoam peanuts, but when the showed up with equipment and supplies, he would save them for contingencies.

We preferred the paper product that they use for gross shipments of eggs, but the peanuts came in handy for shipping French presses etc.