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 eldercare 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)Re-use 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 re-used 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 re-use 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?