The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

August 13, 2009

Juniperseed Mercantile Makes Great Plastic-free Products

When I start to feel depressed about the state of the world, I think about you guys, the folks who read this blog, those that I know and those I’ve yet to meet, and I realize how grateful I am to be part of this online community of people trying to make a difference. So I was tickled a month ago when Fake Plastic Fish reader Tiffany, proprietor of the shop Juniperseed Mercantile (formerly Picnic Basket Crafts) emailed me to ask some questions about plastic packaging.

Tiffany is a school teacher by profession and in her “spare time” sells healthy cleaning and skincare products that she makes herself, trying very hard to reduce the amount of plastic packaging. She doesn’t even use plastic tape, and recently posted a Plastic-Free Green Product Packaging Tutorial on her blog, demonstrating exactly how to use paper tape. But she’s stuck when it comes to containers. As she wrote me,

…I can’t seem to get around the fact that my customers’ number one priority is to be able to buy healthier alternative products which they can actually afford. I would like to use glass bottles, but the cost would become prohibitive to my customers, who will just turn around and buy a plastic-bottled product from someone else.

Instead, she offers to fill reused plastic water bottles “(gleaned from my classroom recycling bin – I would NEVER buy bottled water myself)” and to refill customers’ containers. Recently, she posted a poll on her blog asking her readers for their opinions about businesses that use plastic packaging. Over 50% of her readers voted for her to stick with plastic to keep her prices low.

This is a real dilemma, isn’t it? I didn’t have a great answer for her. But after browsing her shop and reading her philosophy, especially her shop policies which emphasize her commitment to environmental sustainability, I could tell she was definitely on the right track. Even more exciting to me were some of her products that actually solve some of my own plastic dilemmas.

My lonely Swiffer comes out of retirement!

One product that made my day was the cotton chenille reusable mop pad made to fit a Swiffer mop system. From the description:

Can you balance a clean floor with the trash created by using those disposable mopping systems? [Why no, Tiffany, I can’t!]

So if, like me, you’ve had your Swiffer gathering cobwebs in the garage [Yes, I have!] because you can’t bring yourself to use those disposable mopping pads [in their disposable plastic packaging], here’s your solution! This listing is for a set of three thick and thirsty reusable cloths made to fit a standard Swiffer or other similar convenience mopping system (the kind where you shove a corner of the cloth down into the pokey hole to make it stay attached).

Tiffany sent me a couple of her reusable Swiffer cloths to try out.

Here’s how they came packaged:

I and my floor love them!

She also makes reusable pads for other types of Swiffer systems, as well as “unpaper cloths.”

Another plastic-free product Tiffany sent me to try is her new Biodegradable Laundry Stain Bar, made from vegetable oils, sodium hydroxide, borax, baking soda, sugar, and salt.

I tried it out on a tomato-stained pair of pants, scrubbing a corner of the damp bar onto the pants before I tossed them in the wash.


Meet Tiffany (Cuz she’s great!)

I asked Tiffany to tell me a little about herself and how she got started creating her own products to sell. The following is our interview. Be sure and read to the bottom for the giveaway instructions. Enjoy!

Beth: When did you start inventing and making your own natural products? How did you get started? And why did you want to make these things yourself?

Tiffany: I can’t tell you about my cleaning products without telling you a little about my Oma. Coming of age in post-World War II Germany and then moving to the U.S. with 4 kids to raise on her own, it was always just a given that cleaning products would be homemade. I grew up watching her start her day by crafting the concoctions she would later use to clean, disinfect, deodorize and freshen up the house with. She was well-known for having THE cleanest house on the military base. Decades later, when she would come to visit and ask where we kept the borax and washing soda, I’d shrug and hand her some Windex and Comet. She would just shake her head and mutter to herself in German, then proceed to dig through the pantry herself looking for suitable substitutes. Oh, the wonderful things that woman could do with a stale box of baking soda, half a cup of white vinegar, and the juice of a lemon! Well, there you go… the inspiration that made me throw out everything under my kitchen sink, and begin to ask, “What would Oma use?” Her thrifty “waste-not, want not” lifestyle also inspires many of my other crafts, and I think of her often as I am working.

Beth: When did you first learn about the problems with plastic and what steps have you taken to get disposable plastic out of your own life?

Tiffany: As a like science teacher, I feel obligated to teach my students about the impact their actions have on the environment. I teach biology through an ecological approach, so it’s something I sort of live and breathe every day. I am also the sponsor for our school’s Leadership Club, and together we have done a lot of work to make our school closer to zero-waste. We have also stopped doing preserved-specimen dissections (those preserved with chemicals and injected with latex – ewww). As a compromise, we only dissect what we can eat when we finish (lots of veggies/fruits, squid, chicken wings, eggs, etc). In my personal life, I never buy plastic bottled beverages or use plastic bags, use cloth diapers for my kids when we are at home, bring my own dishes to school and parties, use cloth baggies for lunches and snacks, and choose products with less packaging, and those which will last longer.

Beth: What challenges do you face as a shop owner between getting your natural products out to customers at an affordable price and reducing the amount of plastic packaging?

Tiffany: It is actually a lot harder than people might think. As hard as I try to minimize the amount of plastic I send to my customers, most of my raw materials come to me wrapped in plastic. I try to reuse those materials as much as possible, but for a lot of my products, I have to use new containers (and weighing cups, and pipettes, etc.) for sanitation reasons. I end up using a lot of the bottles, jugs, and buckets for my own household use and save the peanuts, bags and wrapping for sending packages to my customers. But supplies and materials aside, it is still hard to find non-plastic packaging alternatives. Glass is heavy to ship and fragile and much more expensive. Metal rusts (and often leaks); paper falls apart and gets greasy. Even the labels for bottles and jars often have vinyl or polyester backings to make them water resistant. I use a recycled paper label that isn’t waterproof, but I feel the benefits of not using plastic labels outweighs the inconvenience of having the label wrinkle up a little.

Beth: In what ways have you already reduced plastic from the items/packaging in your Etsy shop?

Tiffany: Several of my products were easy to package without plastic. For my mop heads, soaps, unpaper towels and other non-liquid items, it is easy to minimize packaging. I also offer the option to my customers to choose reclaimed materials for their packaging and can send lotions and cleaning products packaged in either glass jars/bottles or salvaged water bottles. I also do a lot of sample packaging, and have moved away from using those little zip baggies, and am instead using materials made of paper, gelatin or vegan vitamin capsules, and fabric. For sending smaller packages, I sew envelopes made of reclaimed materials, and I write the address on by hand instead of using adhesive labels. Most people probably don’t even notice these little steps, but that’s okay with me. I feel better knowing I have done at least a little bit to offset the amount of plastic used in my production.

Beth: How do you balance teaching school, producing products, blogging, parenting, and running your shop? Wow. I thought I was busy.

Tiffany: I don’t sleep. LOL Seriously, I don’t really know. I am at it constantly. You have to love every part of it to make it worth it. And it helps to have two months away from school to get ahead on production. During the school year, I’m a basket case most of the time. Something is ALWAYS falling off my plate. My challenge in life is to keep on top of everything just enough so that no one notices I can barely keep it together! LOL

Beth: How did you come up with the name for your shop?

Tiffany: Before selling on Etsy, my “shop” was contained in a picnic basket I kept under my desk at school. Coworkers and parents (and the occasional student looking for a mom gift) would come in and have a look at the hodgepodge of what I had in my basket that day. It was just a little way to help fill the gap at the end of the month, you know? But it has grown REALLY fast! My Etsy shop was opened up one year ago, and already I have almost 1000 sales! I didn’t ever really intend to have such a screaming business, but I’m not complaining! (-:

Beth: What else would you like Fake Plastic Fish readers to know about you, your products, or just your philosophy about life?

Tiffany: I guess I would say that those of us who care about always doing the right thing (for our bodies, our families, our planet, each other) might sometimes beat ourselves up about not being “perfect.” And here’s what I’ve come to. You can’t do any of it perfectly. NONE of it. Everything is a catch-22 and you just have to pick whatever option seems in your heart to be the best balance. I love the idea of managing your “carbon footprint”. Everything you do (or don’t do) has an impact on your bottom line – your carbon impact. Well, there’s a lot more to your footprint than just carbon, and you simply can’t give up everything. All you can do is think of your overall “footprint”, and try to tread as lightly as you can. A blog friend of mine ( said this, “The problem is not that there are too many people in the world. The problem is that there are too many who don’t care.” Be someone who cares. And do something with it.

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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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5 years ago

vegetable oil and sodium hydroxide both come in plastic

Re Gu
7 years ago

USE flannel (old pajamas) on your Swiffer. Its a tacky material that attracts dust, is washable and reusable and FREE.

Ms schambach
8 years ago

Where can I order these? Do they ship to Canada and are they reasonably priced. Would love to try.

Tiffany Norton
12 years ago

Thanks so much for your question. I think it’s a great idea to use what you already have, so a washcloth might really work great! The fabric I use is chenille, which means it is made up stripes of raised rows of yarn. That gives it a more scrubbly property than a regular washcloth would. Also, a regular thick terry washcloth would be very absorbent, so you would have to use more cleaning product to saturate it, compared to something like my chenille cloths. But really, I’m all for reusing something before it goes to the trash. So if you’ve got old washcloths which fit and work for you, that is great! (-:

12 years ago

what is it about the “reusable Swiffer pads” that are so great? From the picture, it looks like my old washcloths would work just as well…

13 years ago

Ice cube trays! My husband is a huge fan of putting ice in everything he drinks. We have to buy new plastic ice cube trays every year since the old ones get cracked. I'm not sure what to replace them with; we have to be able to twist them a bit to pop the ice out, and plastic is the only thing I can think of off-hand that will take that kind of abuse.

13 years ago

Great to know about Tiffany, her products and her environmental commitment.

Plastic problems (other than ones already mentioned) are lip balm and sun screen. I do sometime buy lip balm in the metal tins but I don't really like applying it with my finger. I keep wondering if there is a metal tube out there somewhere?

I would pay more for glass. I like the idea some people had of giving that as an option and showing customers the costs of things (not that the real cost of plastic is ever what people pay for it.)

thanks to Beth and Tiffany for all that you do.

carrotlover [at} igc [dot] org

Anna (Green Talk)
13 years ago

I love Tiffany's stain stick. Getting out tomato sauce is really hard. Wondering if the stick can get out mud?

I would love to find an alternative to deodorant. I use to use the crystal ball but it did not stop me from smelling. Switched to an eco roll on. Also, food packaging drives me nuts.

Love Tiffany's story.

Email: info [a]

Robbie @Going Green Mama
13 years ago

Hmmm…I guess I should be responsible and say the swifter mops, but "minty chocolate chip sugar scrub" sounds so much fun!

What's my worst plastic problem? Food packaging…it's everywhere…meat, produce (unless I can get it at the farmers market), bread, frozen foods… It's impossible to get around. And I can't say that bulk packaging is much of an improvement on some things.

goinggreenmama at gmail.

13 years ago

Dairy packaging is a big problem for me.
I love milk and have a million uses for it.
I've tried converting to powdered milk (since it comes in a cardboard container), but my husband doesn't like it.

Once upon a time I even found a local dairy farmer and gave them an antique milk container to fill up so I wouldn't have plastic. That worked—until the farmer retired.
So—plastic with dairy is my issue.

my e-mail:

13 years ago

Love the products. My biggest area of plastic waste is in the freezer. I have yet to find a good alternative to use when freezing the produce from our garden. budskid [at] hotmail [dot] com

13 years ago

I haven't found a way around the plastic involved in homeopathic medicines and with supplements, they almost always come in plastic bottles and it drives me nuts. But, I am big fan of homeopathy, it works so well for us, and is part of our life vision, so on we go with the plastic containers.

Will send my address via email.

Would love to win something from Tiffany's shop, what great items.


13 years ago

Fund to fight bag fee will top $1M

A campaign deposit of $300,000 Tuesday by the Virginia-based American Chemistry Council brings to more than $1 million the group's contributions so far to the campaign to defeat Seattle's disposable bag-fee ordinance.

13 years ago

Plastic wrap. I know, I know. It's SO easy to get away from using this. I have all kinds of glass containers, as well as reusable "snack" size bags that I like (lunch skins). But, there are times when the plate/bowl is already dirty, already filled, whatever and for some reason my will power fails.

I'm getting better tho…

13 years ago

I would love to give up liquid laundry soap but I tried soap nuts and found the smell offensive. I would also love to give up plastic baggies but as Amber said they make storing things so easy. I just try to get multiple uses out of the ones I do use. :)

Michele P.
13 years ago

I have a hard time getting rid of plastic sandwich bags-my daughter loves to take a sandwich but I have tried other options (a plastic Tupperware sandwich size container to reuse daily) and she left it behind, by the time we got back there someone else had already taken it. Hoping for good ideas that maybe aren't so bulky in the lunchbox… BTW I love the swiffer pads, my wet jet would love those and it would be so much more convenient as well!

micaela6955 at msn dot com

Lisa Sharp
13 years ago

Plastic from organic produce! I have the produce bags but around here all the organic produce comes in plastic! We have a super small farmers market and no co-op so I have no idea what do do.

And I would pay more for glass.

Oh and I love the Swiffer dusters, I made one myself but with no sewing machine it's not as nice as the ones you made so I would pick that if I won, I think. Pretty sure I'm ordering some either way lol.

13 years ago

One plastic thing that is hard for me to give up are those large rubbermaid bins that I keep things stored in like clothes or fabric. Boxes can get wet so it seems like the only option.

nitelily3 (at) gmail . com

13 years ago

I think the over-packaging on kids toys is one of the hardest things to deal with. And I do believe in simple handmade toys too, but that's not always an option.
You can contact me through my blog or at

13 years ago

Thanks so much for introducing Tiffany and her products to me, Beth — this was a wonderful, thoughtful interview. I certainly struggle a lot with all the plastic associated with groceries. I find it especially difficult to get dairy items that are not packaged in/with plastic of some sort.

pmariani21 AT yahoo DOT com
13 years ago

HOORAY for anyone cutting down on plastic. All this commotion about carbon pollution and not much about plastic. Have you SEEN the plastic islands in our oceans? That's just ONE PART! Hooray for anyone doing anything about packaging and waste!

Keep up the good work.

Amber, maybe some of those plastic bags can be washed and reused? I have reused mine for years. (not the exact same bags, of course ;) )

13 years ago

great interview! I learned a few things too :)
the thing that i am having the most difficulty giving up or finding an appropriate alternative to are plastic zip baggies. i've seen the reusable ones, but i'm worried that things like sandwiches will dry out in these.
anyways, my email address is

13 years ago

Wow! I love those Swiffer pads for washing the floor. I happen to have a triangular shaped Swiffer thingie but I can sew therefore I can make one to fit. I was thinking of having to buy a whole new mop when my disposable cleaning pads ran out.

Tiffany, you have so many other nice things that look lovely that I hope I win this giveaway!

What kind of plastic do I wish I could give up if I could just find an alternative? hmm… How do you get rid of kitty litter without using plastic bags? Right now, I take plastic bags that other people are trying to get rid of.

13 years ago

Oooh, ziploc baggies and ice cube trays…and a jam jar that I could freeze that's not plastic would be great for summer berry time… :-)

13 years ago

oh, I forgot my e-mail it is

13 years ago

Great interview, and very inspiring.

13 years ago

I have been following Tiffany's blog for awhile and love her products! Her swiffer cloths and floor cleaner are amazing! The cleaner is the first one I have came across that is eco-friendly and doesn't leave streaks on my bamboo floor. Its great to see that her store and its purpose are catching on:)

I have cut back on the amount of plastic use drastically in the past two years, but I still have one issue I struggle with everyday. I do alot of photo-processing and use several cd/dvds everyday and need cases for those. I offer discounts for customers that provide a jumpdrive for photo/video transfer but the number of customers that take advantage of that is minimal. I already have a guilt about the amount of plastic that is used on my media but I can't seem to find a way to package those disks in a professional looking case. Any ideas about a way to protect them with out the cheesy paper sleeves with plastic fronts that are abundant?

Thanks for the awareness you are raising!

The Huffmans
13 years ago

I agree with everyone on the ziploc bag issue. Another issue I have is plastic ice cube trays. I make my own baby food and freeze it into ice cube trays, which is much healthier and more affordable than buying commercial baby food in plastic containers. However, I don't know of an alternative to freezing the food in the trays and then transferring the cubes to ziploc bags (to free up the trays for other kinds of food). Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I loved the interview!

Kathleen W.
13 years ago

I had to comment because I really love Tiffany's shop and her eco-friendly philosophy, and have gotten to know her a bit via our blogs. I'm so glad you featured her, because she's so admirable, and of course she makes lovely things!

13 years ago

cloths you buy in the automotive section of walmart fit the swiffer and other mop heads like it and are cheaper use them myself in stead of the swiffer or other brands spray cleaner on floor that i made myself in leftover plastic container then attach cloth and clean then throw in wash with clothes then hang dry works great toothbrush and haibrush looking for one made of wood with natural bristles want to get the plastic out of my mouth thank you

13 years ago

Clif, the link to your shopping cart is in the upper left corner. You have to "commit to buy" via Etsy and then you have to actually make the payment through PayPal. I know that you can use the PayPal system to make a payment with Visa. I'm sure if you message the seller she can help you. Good luck!

13 years ago

TZel, I highly recommend these cloth alternatives to Ziplock bags:

13 years ago

I'm soooo excited to find Swiffer alternatives. My friends was just lamenting how she couldn't give up her beloved Swiffer despite the waste, and I was so surprised because she does cloth diapering and is very eco-conscious. As for me, I just can't give up all the lovely pre-made food. Pretzels and pita bread and every cracker I buy comes in plastic. I bring my own metal containers for take-out and some deli items at the grocery store, but everything that is sold by weight seems to have to go into one of their plastic containers. I do re-use them endlessly; with kids, you always need containers for something.

My e-mail is fakeplasticfish "at"

13 years ago

I would love to do away with my plastic Ziploc bags and food containers! Thanks so much!

Elizabeth B
13 years ago

Amber and others, you can use glass containers in the freezer; I use SnapLock because they're heavy-duty enough that I don't worry about breakage. They're square, so they stack,. They do take up more space than freezer bags, but I decided that I really didn't want to go through freezer bags that way any more.

I have the hardest time with toiletries–shampoo, deodorant, you name it. There's just no way to recycle a roll-on bottle, you know?

My e-mail is baybelletrist [at] gmail [dot] com. Have a wonderful time in Hawaii, Beth, and thanks as always for all you do.

13 years ago

Totally confused…

I wanted to buy the swiffer-type mop pads and the hand duster pads but was completely confused by the Etsy site. There was no link to get back to my shopping cart so had to log out and back in and reselect what I wanted a second time.

I wanted to pay by Visa but was directed into PayPal – which I always avoid if possible.

So I'm sitting here wondering how to pay by Visa when an email arrives telling me that I have bought through PayPal but I should check that I have made payment. What?

So I still don't know if I have actually bought the items or not, PayPal shows no record of the transaction. Now what?

I'm all for Tiffany's alternatives to plastic but it sure is an ordeal to get them through Etsy.

13 years ago

Loved this interview to bits. I would really love to get the vanilla capuccino sugar scrub, if I were to win. I have almost plasti free sewing scissors – my Gingher scissors are entirely made of metal themselves, but come with a plastic piece to keep them in so that you don't get stabbed. Maybe some of them don't come with that bit? Of course, they are a little pricey (I got mine as a gift). And I would also like to tell you all that I just tried baking soda yesterday on my hair for the first time and it rocks! I have been using bar soap for a little bit, but the baking soda is way way better. Happy times.

Email addy: beckyglinka (at!) yahoo dot com

13 years ago

First, thanks for the lovely offer/giveaway!

I think for me the biggest problem is makeup and haircare products. I only buy the 'cleanest' products that I can find at my local health food/organic shops, but all of these items inevitably come in plastic containers. I reuse shampoo bottles, and recycle whatever I can. That's my biggest guilt, really. I've wanted to try making my own products at home, but I'm really nervous to do so. I have curly, textured, difficult hair and my skin is quite sensitive to most things. I guess I'm nervous to step out of a beauty routine that is tried and true. I think the product I would be most willing to try making at home would be lotion…

13 years ago

For the metal or glass.. it really depens of what we are talking about. I usually prefer metal for the fact that's unbreakable but I prefer the glass for it's esthetic!

The plastic that I have problem with are plural!

Dental floss, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, toilet paper packaging, pill container

Meat packaging, organic fruit packaging(!), cheese packaging, frost vegetables packaging

Scissors, eh I can't even find sewing scissor with no plastic!

Plastic is everywhere!


Erin aka Conscious Shopper
13 years ago

consciousshopperblog at gmail

I loved all of Tiffany's answers – especially her last answer about being someone who cares. Great interview!

Like others, my problem is the freezer bag issue. But specifically, I haven't been able to find a replacement for freezing homemade bread. I've tried double bagging it in old bread bags, but it just doesn't work as well. And besides, I've been making my own bread for several years, so I just don't have many bread bags lying around.

13 years ago

I am SOOOO excited to see this interview! I've been a reader of FPF for 2+ years now, which inspired me sometime last year to search out a replacement for paper towels, which led me to find — you guessed it — Tiffany's Etsy shop. I'm now a repeat customer of hers (bought a second set of cloth napkins as a gift for my brother), and I am just THRILLED to see her featured here. It's like a convergence of two wonderful worlds. You two should have met a long time ago.

Tiffany makes heavenly lip balm. What about packaging it in small tins instead of plastic tubes when possible?

13 years ago

One thing I've had to compromise on is glass containers to bring in my lunch. I have a glass container with a plastic seal-tight lid. The all glass containers don't seal, and I can't have my food spilling all over!

I also haven't found (but haven't researched in depth yet) a good dish soap that I can make/use that I don't have to buy in a new plastic jar each time I run out. I have a few months left on my current jar until I need a new one.

I like the idea about opting to pay extra for a glass jar (I probably would)!

(lemontwist at

13 years ago

PS oh yeah. My email is robj98168@yahoo.xom

13 years ago

Plastic Freezer Bags. Seems to be a theme!Luckily I reuse and reuse them until they fall apart. Same with those food Seaver (seal – a – meal) Bags. Reuse them. An yes I would pay more for glass bottles and such. Perhaps you could give your customers that choice?

13 years ago

I'm not entering the contest but I have a suggestion for the packaging problems. It might be difficult to manage from a technical standpoint but could you have an option to have a product sent in glass/whatever-is-appropriate for the at-cost difference? It shows your customers that you are mindful of both your impact and costs to them, some of them might feel it's worth it to pay just a little more and not have more plastic coming into the world.

Just a thought, and I like the looks of those swiffer replacements too!

Eco Yogini
13 years ago

what a fun shop!! I am SO getting one of those swiffer mop tops for my mom- she uses the swiffer a LOT.

I also adored her interview :) I love that I have the option to have my beauty products shipped in recycled/repurposed materials if I can (I would!).

I find that most of our plastic comes from juice/milk containers. When I lived in BC I was able to buy milk in glass containers at the local health food store. Here in NS, no such thing. We've been trying to buy less milk (500ml every 10 days) and cutting back on OJ (after learning about the drama behind how 'fresh' orange is really made).

I would definitely pay more for recycled/glass containers for any product that I bought. Easily. I love that she has it as an option. I guess the 'biodegradable' plastic wouldn't really be an option either- just cuz she can't guarantee that every composting system could handle it.


13 years ago

lowrah -at- gmail]

The bathroom has been my most problematic area. Everything is plastic. Slowly replacing items with homemade as they run out, or buying reusable containers, but toilet plungers, tub stoppers, toilet brushes, my shower curtain, my makeup compacts, toothbrush.. plastic. It's overwhelming to think about.

Johann Struck
13 years ago

so inspiritng…
I am 57 and have been trying the same all my adult life.
It brought tears to my eyes to read of a young mom with such great ideas and practices. I knew it could work.
Keep on caring,

13 years ago

Darn, I forgot my email: phoenixmuse [at]

13 years ago

I am so excited about the Swiffer attachments. Thanks for sharing, Beth.

This might have a limited customer base, but what I am currently frustrated with is pill boxes. Specifically, the kind with dividers so that I can bring multiple pills with me. I could really use a non-plastic alternative.