The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 8, 2008

National Geographic – Could you be a little greener?

National Geographic publishes the Green Guide, a wonderful source for information on environmentally-friendly living. I’ve consulted the Green Guide often for information from PVC to PFCs. And National Geographic publishes articles on environmental issues, such as “Oceans Awash With Microscopic Plastic, Scientists Say“.

So it was particularly disturbing for me to receive an email from Fake Plastic Fish reader Ashley Christenson yesterday telling me about the plastic “polybag” that the National Geographic magazine comes wrapped in. Ashley wrote a letter to National Geographic and gave me permission to reproduce it, as well as National Geographic’s response here:

March 17, 2008
Dear National Geographic,

I always enjoy receiving the National Geographic magazine in the mail. I find it informative and it has raised my awareness about many important issues. I was glad to see you report on the mass of high tech waste we produce and its effects on the world. One issue that I think needs more attention is our unending use of disposable plastic. Plastic bags can’t be recycled to make new plastic bags. We keep making more and more virgin plastic that eventually pollutes and does not biodegrade. Would you please consider going back to mailing your magazine in the brown paper cover? At least paper can be recycled into new paper and it does biodegrade. Every little bit

Ashley Christenson

Here is National Geographic’s response:

On Mar 18, 2008, at 4:17 AM, wrote:

Thank you for contacting the National Geographic Society.

We appreciate your concern for the environment and our use of polybags (the plastic magazine wrappers). Because more states are allowing this material to be recycled, and because we have experienced problems with the paper wrappers, the polybags seem to be a possible option. The polyethylene wrappers are not unlike grocery bags in that they are recyclable if there is a local drop-off for doing so.

Our circulation staff is extremely interested in feedback such as yours, which I will pass along to them. Again, we appreciate the concern that prompted your e-mail.

Ashley followed up with a second letter, which has yet to be answered:

April 6, 2008
Dear National Geographic,

Thank you for responding to my email. I realize that recycling is available in some areas but the fact remains that recycling takes energy which creates more pollution. Plastic usually ends up in landfills or the ocean where it leaches chemicals and harms wildlife. I often receive unwrapped mail order catalogs in my mailbox and they are never wrinkled or water damaged so I don’t understand the benefit of wrapping your magazine. Please reconsider your options…sometimes less is better!
Ashley Christenson

Following Ashley’s lead, I sent my own letter to National Geographic this afternoon asking why they need any kind of cover to begin with, and noting the inconsistency of writing about the harmfulness of plastic in the environment while at the same time wrapping their magazine in unnecessary plastic.

Please send your own brief letter to National Geographic to ask them to stop wrapping their magazines in plastic. You can email:

Or you can send a letter to one of these two addresses:

Customer Service Office
National Geographic Society
P.O. Box 63002
Tampa, FL 33663-3002

National Geographic Society
P.O. Box 98199
Washington D.C. 20090-8199
fax: 1-202-828-5460

The distribution director is named Michael Swarr.

It warms my fake plastic heart when I hear about folks writing letters, as well as follow-up letters, to companies to ask for the changes that we want to see. In a few days, or maybe next week, I’ll have an update on the Brita filter recycling campaign.

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Anita K
15 years ago

I just opened up my October issue, and the bag says #4 Recyclable. I don’t remember that being on there last month…although it may have been. I just posted about it at my blog:

Here is the specific link:

15 years ago

I wonder if people were stealing the maps?

15 years ago

You know- this jhas bothered me for a long time that Nat Geo and other mags I get all of a sudden come wrapped in plastic. I even cancelled my subscriptons to many mags because of it. I personally think it is to protect the advertising and subscription inserts added to mags. And like Jennconspiracy said “I remember when National Geographic came with a paper band wrapped around it. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t now.” And I like that it was said in one of the letters that all of the catalogs we recieve doesn’t have plastic wrapping.

terrible person
15 years ago

The joke used to be that National Geographic, with its pictures of topless tribeswomen, should come in a plain brown wrapper. This would be much better than a plastic bag!

One way to protest, I guess, is to buy the Harvard Lampoon’s parody of the magazine, which is available at newsstands, not, as far as I know, wrapped in plastic. In college, I was never that impressed with the Lampoon magazine (so often sophomoric – literally! I preferred the MIT equivalent, but then, a friend of mine helped write it), but some of their special issues, and their parodies of well-known publications, were pretty good.

It drives me nuts when I see all the newspapers lying in people’s driveways and yard in plastic bags on days when there is no chance of rain. But then, they have to keep the sections of the paper together as deliverers throw them. From cars. If we had kids working paper routes, placing newspapers gently on stoops…

Oh, here‘s something from NPR on degradable bags for newspapers! But it seems to miss the point about what “degradability” means, and to support recycling at supermarkets as a viable alternative. Get a clue, NPR folks!

15 years ago

Thanks for another great post! I wrote letters to ‘Real Simple’ and ‘Reader’s Digest’ about this same issue and both times received unsatisfactory responses… Thanks for sharing your letter, it’s great to copy, paste and tweak a little bit to send to other companies that are also practicing this same bad habit! :)

Ken Mott
15 years ago

Looks like most grocery bags (only 1% of them get recycled) are recycled into the fake lumber products.

15 years ago

Funny to see this post today…I just sent letters yesterday to Whole Foods for wrapping their organic bananas in plastic(!?) and excessive use of plastic for other items as well (dried cherries, for example) and I cancelled my Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic (all part of the same company) credit cards because Old Navy had a mailing in which they mailed me an empty plastic bag to bring to the store and get 20% off what I can fit in there. Seriously? I think writing letters definitely does help.

15 years ago

I’ll write a letter – I remember when National Geographic came with a paper band wrapped around it. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t now.

In fact, I would like to see the maps printed on paper with a higher recycled content.

I was just baffled by the response that “polyethylene wrappers are not unlike grocery bags in that they are recyclable if there is a local drop-off”

Isn’t that type of drop-off for RE-USE — not recycling. I never have had the impression that any plastic bag drop off site at a grocery store was for anything other than re-use by other grocery store customers.

Am I wrong in this impression?

15 years ago

Great point. As much as I try to reduce my waste, I’ve never really thought much about that plastic wrapper on the NG every month. I’m going to go write my letter right now.

Jeffrey Paswick
15 years ago

i hate plastic too. when me and my dad peter go to price chopper we never even get paper or plastic. my little brother derrick wears a back pack and we put everything in it. it is nice to save the world.

Ken Mott
15 years ago

What make it even in worse is that most magazines come wrapped in plastic in a bundle to the local post office. I think it goes by route number, the extra 4 digits after a zip code. 12345-XXXX.

So they are wrapped twice.

15 years ago

I just wrote my letter. It really irks me when things are needlessly wrapped in plastic. It can be so disheartening, but this is my therapy! Thanks FPF!