The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 3, 2008

Holiday No Plastic Packaging Challenge

Have you seen Amy Gates’s No Plastic Holiday Challenge at Crunchy Domestic Goddess? It warms my heart when other bloggers get on the no-plastic bandwagon. If you haven’t already, please click the link to take the pledge and read her article. Then come back here (yes, come back!) for ideas about how to de-plastic the packaging for your plastic-free gifts. It doesn’t help to buy a beautiful handmade plastic-free gift from an Etsy seller, only to have them send it to you smothered in bubble wrap or inside a box covered in plastic tape.

Plastic packaging is just the kind of disposable material that is making its way to the North Pacific Gyre. (Isn’t it ironic that a material that lasts forever in the environment is so often made into single-use disposable products?)

So what can we do about it?

1) Give gifts that require no packaging at all: gift certificates for services, meals, theater tickets, other experiences. Gifts of time. Teach a skill. Cook a meal. Babysit. These kinds of gifts help bring people together without adding to the waste already choking our planet. In fact, I just realized tonight that I work for a very green company at this time of year. We provide elder care and childcare services. What a great gift that would make. (I sent my idea to the marketing department tonight. Hope it’s not too late!)

2) When purchasing ingredients for homemade treats in the store, try to shop where goods are sold in bulk bins and you can bring your own cloth produce bags, stainless steel containers, or glass jars instead of taking new plastic bags. Think of giving solid soaps and shampoos instead of liquids in plastic bottles. Skip most produce bags altogether. For larger items, they are unnecessary.

3) When ordering gifts online, request zero plastic and Styrofoam packaging specifically. I do this all the time when dealing with online sellers, and if they can’t accommodate me, I don’t order from them. When I do receive plastic packaging, I’ll sometimes simply mail it back to the vendor with a nice note asking them to rethink their packaging policies. (Or carry it across town on my bike.)

I’ve been criticized in the past for the added fuel costs of sending packaging back to sellers. But I believe that the fuel cost pales in comparison to the amount of energy and resources that can be saved through bringing awareness to the issue of plastic packaging. And receiving back their own packaging gives sellers a clearer message than a simple email.

4)Reuse packaging when shipping gifts away from home. Or use mailers made from post-consumer recycled paper fiber. For example, Jiffy Padded Mailers are filled with post-consumer paper fiber instead of plastic bubbles, as are Caremail recycled paper mailing supplies, which I saw recently on the shelf at Office Max.

5) Don’t forget the tape. Plastic packing tape is not the only option. Choose paper packing tape when necessary, and use it sparingly. Most people use way more tape than they need. (Although, yesterday at the post office, I was told I had not used enough tape and was forced to add plastic priority mail tape to the edges of a box I was shipping, so be sure you know how much is required beforehand.)

6) Find ways to wrap gifts without paper or tape. Many people are enjoying sewing their own cloth gift bags that are reused year after year. If you don’t want to sew your own, Lisa at Retro Housewife has a list of sources. Another cloth option is Furoshiki, a Japanese style of cloth wrap that requires no paper. And if you do want to use paper (preferably reused or recycled), try this method I figured out last year to wrap gifts without tape!

7) Be gracious and don’t stress. We are all human and doing the best we can. At this time of year, most of us will end up with some plastic packaging we didn’t anticipate, usually from well-meaning people who love us. Thank them for their gifts and then find a way to reuse the plastic. Me? I’m going to send out an e-mail to my friends and family (probably tomorrow) with a polite, plastic-free gift request. I may even publish it here. And once that’s done, I’ll accept whatever comes with gratitude. Because isn’t that what this time of year is supposed to be about in the first place?

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14 years ago

Beth, I’m trying to find that post about paper wrapping of mailed boxes so you don’t have to use any tape at all. Can you send me the link? Thanks! I’m purchasing neem sticks instead of plastic toothbrushes from and they’re willing to do whatever I need so that they use no plastic.

Lynn from
14 years ago

Beth, you continue to amaze me with your creativity and continued dedication to fighting plastic. You’ve been at this for so long…I think many folks would have burned out by now…

I love these ideas. Thanks for a great post and for contributing to the carnival!

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Anna, I welcome relevant links. I look forward to reading your post on re-using credit cards. Thanks for thinking of this issue.


14 years ago


When people buy gift certificates, try to buy email gift certificates otherwise they will send the plastic ones. My brother gave my son a plastic card similar to a master card gift certificate and if you don’t use it right away, it depletes monthly. On top it, you can’t recycle credit cards! And you know what they are made of?PLASTIC!!!

I actually got so infuriated with plastic credit cards that I wrote a post on how to reuse them. Beth, I hope you don’t mind that I link the post here. If so, just delete the link.

18 Ideas to Reuse Expired Credit Cards

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Hi Karen. I actually use the cloth bags more for bulk bin purchases than for produce. In the fridge, we have all sorts of ways for keeping things fresh. Some work well in a container of water. Some do well in a bowl. I keep very few things in bags once I get them home.

And I do still reuse a plastic bag for bread. I buy bread either without any packaging (from the bakery, put into my cloth bag) or in a paper bag. Then, when I get home, I put the cloth or paper bag inside a reused plastic grocery bag. It’s the only way I’ve found to keep it from getting hard.

I think you’re idea is fine. Wrapping your produce in a tea towel and then putting that into a plastic bag that you reuse again and again serves the purpose of keeping you from needing new plastic bags and also keeps your food from coming into contact with the pastic. Seems okay to me.

15 years ago

Remember the Be Like Mike thing? You know, Mike, the guy that dribbled a big orange ball so well and had a hard time hitting a little white one? Well let’s start a Be Like Beth thing.

Here is my first attempt…directed at that megamonster corporation of consumer stuff, Colgate-Palmolive.

Dear Colgate-Palmolive:

I believe we should all be concerned with the spread of plastic in the environment. The more that can be recycled the better. Even the oceans are now carrying a load of discarded plastic.

Since the entire container for your SpeedStick product is plastic, why not make it all of the same type so it can be recycled?

I visited your SpeedStick website and found this answer to my question in the FAQ section – “All of our antiperspirants and deodorants are packaged in polypropylene, polystyrene or PET packaging. Since they are made of mixed materials, they are not recyclable. Currently it is necessary to use these mixed plastics since the container is exposed to extreme temperatures during the manufacturing process.”

What I don’t understand is why the entire package cannot be made of the high-temp tolerant plastic. Then, the problem would be solved and, though the cost of the plastic might be higher, you could prominently display “fully recyclable” on the SpeedStick package as an advantage over your rivals that would justify a price of a few cents more.


The Green Cat
15 years ago

I don’t celebrate any gift-giving holidays this month (unless my best friend’s birthday counts) but I have been taking a cue from you, Beth, and try to wrap gifts (and my Etsy sales) without any plastic tape. I’m becoming quite creative with reused tissue paper and old maps for wrapping tied up with scrap fabric bows! Thanks for the inspiration!

Lisa Sharp
15 years ago

Thanks for linking to my blog! I always get a warm fuzzy feeling when you post something from my blog. :)

I’m behind in reading my blogs so tonight at dinner my mom asked if I had seen you posted a link to my blog. My husband and dad gave my mom and I funny looks while we talked about “Fake Plastic Fish” and “Crunchy Domestic Goddess” haha.

15 years ago

For YEARS, I have been making little fabric gift bags… I buy a holiday-themed fabric and make a bag (a simple drawstring bag), run a bright ribbon through the top casing as a drawstring and tie on a couple of jingle bells. Very cute, very festive and I always say to people that they are to be reused. I wrap the gift in plain or white tissue paper and pop it in the bag.

In all the years I’ve been making gift bags, I’ve never seen A SINGLE ONE reused. “Oh, they’re too pretty,” I’m told. “I couldn’t give it away!!” and so on. So, my good effort to try and cut down the Single Use gift packaging hasn’t helped. But I keep trying. :-D

I haven’t bought gift wrap for years. I use plain brown mailing paper… sometimes stamped with gold stars or other holiday-themed icons… but I go NUTS on the ribbons. I learned to make my own bows years ago. Oddly, the bows get re-used, even if the gift bags don’t! But a plain brown package with a big and happy bow topped with a gift tag made from last year’s Christmas cards (cut out with craft scissors… you get the holiday pictures of snow, deer, Santa, candles, what have you) and the packages come out pretty, inviting and a bit less wasteful.

Radical Garbage Man
15 years ago

Hey Beth — sorry for the long absence.

I asked for a no plastic holiday last year and the family did OK. My grandmother had drawn my name and it must have killed her since we joke that she should own stock in 3M to recoup earnings on her hermetically scotch-tape sealed gifts. She got the clever idea of using dish towels instead of wrapping paper around the box, thus providing me with something useful as well as decorative. She used a little bit of making tape and a fiber ribbon to hold it together. The gift inside the box had come with plastic packaging (which she was appalled to discover when I opened it), but progress is progress!

Have a happy plastic-free holiday season!

15 years ago

This is an awesome post. I wish I read it sooner – I will admit that I most certainly won’t be doing a plastic free holiday this year, but I am printing this to save with my holiday stuff for next year.

Although, I am a big fan of gift bags and constantly reuse them. I know, it’s not a huge thing, but it’s my little step in the right direction!

15 years ago

Hayley – first i think it’s amazing and impressive that you don’t want anything for christmas. Most parents have the opposite problem (their kids want too much). My suggestion is think about anything you might need i.e. clothes, shoes, etc. Maybe you can pick out some nice “eco-friendly” options and your parents can get you that. My other suggestion is to check out It’s all handmade items, sold directly by the person who makes it. You can type in “eco” and find some really neat stuff…there is some beautiful jewelery on there and lots of “eco” jewelery options, so maybe you can find something cute and get that.

Mother Earth aka Karen Hanrahan
15 years ago

tell me beth about cloth produce bags – do you mean a cotton type bag that you take to the store with you that you can put your loose produce in and then keep that in the fridge? Does that keep the produce fresh in the fridge well?? I reuse my plastic produce bags, I’ve probably been using the same ones for years. I use linen towels inside plastic to keep green onions and celery crisp – this works so well! But alone – green onions in linen dried up? I shop every two weeks and stock up – we eat a ton of veggies so it’s important to me to keep them from rotting ya know?

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Hey Hayley, first of all, make sure you really can just install Photoshop from your friends’ disk. NOT that I am encouraging you to do anything illegal! But I also had a friend who tried to “borrow” Photoshop from someone else, and it wouldn’t work on her computer. Photoshop sounds like a great gift to ask for.

Tracing back your ancestry to the 1400’s is impressive. My dad has one of our lines back nearly that far I believe. I should know, but I never really got into it.

It’s hard for me to suggest things for you because I don’t know what you like. I do know you’re a really smart kid. What about an iTunes gift card (or is that not tangible enough for them?) That way, you can not only download music but also audiobooks, which is one of my favorite ways to “read” these days.

Anyone else have ideas for gifts for smart environmentally-aware teenagers whose parents want to give them physical presents?

15 years ago

I like the cloth bag idea, I’m going to sew a few up from our various cloth stuff left over from furniture or draperies in hopes that my parents will use them (I only have one younger sibling at boarding school to give gifts to and I made a tradition of hiding the gift in a random place in the house because I cant gift wrap)

My indecision currently rests with what to request for Christmas.
In previous years I’ve requested donations made in my name and then one other biger present (such as an iPod). This year I had my eyes set on a newer version of Photoshop to match my Web Design Creative Suite, but my friend is happy to allow me to just take it from her disk, so now I’m left with very few ideas. I’m considering a membership to (Im back to the 1400s on one generation!), which would be perfectly environmentaly-friendly, but my parents seem to have an obsession with giving me something I can pick up and hold. Any suggestions? (They don’t need to be child-related ideas, really, I rarely find much interest in environemntaly-friendly toy cars ^^)

15 years ago

I had mostly given up on the tradition of gift wrapping years ago. Something that I did once when I still lived a drivable distance from my parents was to get a lobster pot for my mom and just put all the other gifts inside.

15 years ago

I would love it if you published the letter your sending to your friends and family. I’m planning on doing the same thing and it would be helpful to see what someone else is writing. I don’t want to offend anyone, I just don’t want/need any new plastic.

I’ll be making cloth Christmas bags to hold gifts for under the tree. This way I can eliminate the painstaking need to wrap gifts.

15 years ago

I am knitting small gifts this year to make Christmas more personal. Then knitting gift pouches/bags (super easy from “Last Minute Knitted Gifts”. It has to be easy b/c I’m a beginner. This practice should do away with the wrapping paper sold in plastic and gifts packaged in plastic and styrofoam. As for paper wrapping, we’ve saved alot of the wrapping paper over the years, from back in the ’60s before I came along. It’s nice to use something recycled every year for 40 some odd years and see how art has changed.

Tanya Seaman
15 years ago

Thank you! You’re such an inspiration. I’ve been trying for years to use as little plastic as possible, but I’m able to be more focused now that I’m not going it alone. People like you help propel me forward and keep on this progression toward absolute zero plastic.

Anarres Natural Health
15 years ago

I adore the kraft paper tape! This year, I am wrapping my parcels for shipping in leftover posters from a green film festival and the paper tape. I bought a case of the paper tape in case my crafty clients wanted to buy some from me… But I do reuse the bubble pack that my bottles and jars come in. I really have no choice. The manufacturer packages most of the stuff and if they make 14000 jars an hour packed the same way, I can’t get special treatment.

15 years ago

I just received my big order from I was so happy to find that they used brown paper to cushion the package rather than plastic filler from last year. The brown paper that comes in these package will double as wrapping paper in this house.

15 years ago

I just read your earlier post about how to wrap using only paper. There IS a funky Japanese method, but I don’t know what the name is. I saw some gifts wrapped by Japanese exchange students who were staying with my aunt, and the packages were securely wrapped with pretty flourishes of accordian pleated flowers and things. Maybe a Japanese bookstore (like the one in our Asian market) would have more information or instructions. Also, for ribbon, there is red and white cotton baker’s twine on a big spool, and it looks candy-cane festive.